The military is taking a fresh look at moving its U.S. Africa Command from Germany back stateside, and the Lowcountry once again is vying to become its new home.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that Charleston once ranked at the top of new locations for the command, and he asked Gen. Carter F. Ham, who heads up the U.S. Africa Command, about the move.
During an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ham told Graham, R-S.C., that he has received orders to assess possible new homes and make a recommendation. He did not specify a timetable.
"Would you like to live in Charleston?" Graham asked. Ham replied, "Sir, I have visited Charleston and enjoyed that visit very much."
"We would like to have you," Graham said, adding that the Charleston community is willing to provide infrastructure to the Department of Defense so it would not have to let a military construction contract.
"All politics is local," Graham added, "so I really do want to talk to you about that potential move."
The Pentagon also considered moving the command to the Naval Weapons Station three years ago but ultimately decided to leave it where it was. Graham noted Defense Secretary Robert Gates has revived the idea.
Peter Wertimer, a Charleston businessman who leads the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's military policy council, said the chamber is assembling an incentive package for the Pentagon to look at. "Charleston wants to be in that game again -- and expects to be," he said.
The command has 1,300 employees at its headquarters and joint subordinate activities, half of whom are civilians. Its budget was $310 million during the past fiscal year.
President George W. Bush created the U.S. Africa Command, and President Barack Obama has maintained it.
The U.S. military has a small footprint in Africa, with only military attaches there and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
The Lowcountry's existing military bases, including the Charleston Air Force Base and the Naval Weapons Station, employ about 22,000 -- twice as many as the region's next largest employer, the Medical University of South Carolina, according to the chamber.