In 2007, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced the creation of a new “Unified Combatant Command,” the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). The Metro Chamber’s Military Policy Council immediately advanced Charleston as the best location for the new command’s headquarters. A task force was formed, a presentation readied and in 2008, an evaluation team was sent out by the DOD. The team visited a variety of sites and ultimately recommended Charleston as the permanent home for the command.
However, AFRICOM was in its infancy and the decision was delayed until 2012-13. AFRICOM remains in Stuttgart, Germany.
Officials are again contemplating relocating AFRICOM as every overseas base is under budgetary review in these times of extreme fiscal hardship. The AFRICOM decision is critical to America’s security and could mean billions of dollars to the U.S. — and Charleston’s — economy. Additional background is required in order to understand what’s at stake.
There are six geographic combatant commands that divide the globe into areas of responsibility (AORs.) Within each AOR, one commander oversees all American military activity. Perhaps best known is Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for all U.S. military action in the Middle East, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. CENTCOM headquarters is in Tampa, Fla. In fact, all geographic combatant commands are on American soil with the exception of EUCOM and AFRICOM.
Almost two years ago the Military Policy Council formed a second AFRICOM Relocation Task Force in order to mount another attempt to attract AFRICOM, fashioning a proposal more comprehensive and more compelling than that quickly assembled in 2008. The current proposal describes a command that will grow stronger and more effective in the Charleston region while saving the American taxpayer nearly $400 million annually from reduced outlays in overseas living expenses and lower operating costs. The one-time windfall from a change in real estate between Germany and South Carolina will net the DOD another $390 million. According to DOD, the cost to operate oversees is at least 25 percent higher than operating in the United States. An AFRICOM headquarters in Charleston would contribute $555 million per year in economic activity to the U.S. instead of Germany.
And Charleston’s AFRICOM proposal isn’t just about saving money. Our proposal also offers DOD a location that would enhance the mission and effectiveness of AFRICOM.
■ Command effectiveness: If AFRICOM is relocated to Joint Base Charleston, it will find itself co-located with multiple partners to enhance AFRICOM’s mission in unique ways.
■ Economic efficiency: Our task force’s proposal includes designing and building a headquarters complex for AFRICOM to the command’s specifications at no cost to DOD or the American taxpayer.
■ Quality of life: We all know Charleston’s incredible quality of life. One factor we offer AFRICOM that cannot be matched by any other community is the cultural alignment between Africa and Charleston’s African-American community (particularly the Gullah culture, descended directly from West Africa).
Charleston’s AFRICOM Relocation Task Force was repeatedly assured by decision-makers in DOD that our proposal would be thoroughly reviewed at the appropriate time. However, on January 29th, we learned that outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, in a letter to the U.S. Senate, stated that AFRICOM should remain in Stuttgart as a matter of “operational effectiveness.” Though the secretary acknowledged cost savings of up to 50 percent, he made the stale and underwhelming argument that “operational effectiveness” means being in the same time-zone as your AOR. This decision short-changed Charleston also, in that it was made without updating DOD’s 2008 study. Though the secretary spoke on behalf of the Department of Defense, the issue of where AFRICOM headquarters belongs is a matter for the commander-in-chief and the consent of Congress.
Please write, email or call any of our state representatives or senators.
It is time to engage the new Secretary of Defense and the president to revisit the issue of AFRICOM Headquarters. We only want a chance to demonstrate why Charleston is the best location for AFRICOM.
Peter Wertimer is chairman of the Military Policy Council of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.