Leveraging the Lowcountry Veteran and Military Community in Pivot to Asia – Brent Thompson

The White House announced a “pivot to Asia” in November, 2011, as part of a strategy to strengthen its economic, military, and diplomatic role in the area.(1) Since that time, President Obama has visited Asia and the Pacific nine times to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to a “rebalance” in the region.(2) The United States is clearly shifting its strategic attention to an area of the world containing “nearly half of the earth’s population, one-third of global GDP, and some of the world’s most capable militaries.”(3) How can the Lowcountry take advantage of this rebalancing effort toward Asia?

One potential answer is for the Lowcountry to leverage its substantial military and veteran community to make inroads across Asia and the Pacific. The military is already leading the way in the region as part of the overall rebalancing strategy. American armed forces have had a significant presence throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands for over seventy years and have been instrumental in contributing security assistance, ensuring freedom of navigation and the seas, and providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Undoubtedly thousands of servicemembers with Lowcountry ties have served, and continue to serve, throughout the region.

South Carolina is home to eight major military installations with over 74,000 personnel and nearly 58,000 military retirees, many of whom reside in the Lowcountry. The military is an economic driver within the region, creating an annual commercial impact on the community of approximately $19.3 billion.(5) Importantly, the state contains installations from every major service and component (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, plus National Guard and Reserve stations), and the bulk of them are in the Lowcountry.(4) Servicemembers from these stations live and serve in the Lowcountry—and then many of them deploy abroad or are subsequently stationed overseas. Military members thus create a link between the Lowcountry and the larger world.

Military veterans are more likely to pursue public service careers.(6) While many factors influence a veteran’s post-military employment choices, the desire to serve the larger community often plays a key role. Veterans are also more likely to volunteer in civic organizations and serve their communities.(7) Many veterans become business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.(8) The Lowcountry would benefit from creating ties with these future business and community leaders, especially as they travel to Asia and beyond.

How can the Lowcountry network with these young leaders before they step out into the world? One way to connect with those who are entering the service is through enlistment recognition ceremonies, which recognize high school students who will enlist in the armed forces after graduation.(9) Enlistment recognition ceremonies are a powerful way to thank young men and women for their service and establish lasting bonds between servicemembers and their community.

For those who are already serving in military bases throughout the region, Lowcountry leaders can establish mentorship programs and interest groups for those who are interested in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Lowcountry leaders should also look to the incredible resource of the Citadel Military College—and other local university ROTC programs—which will create future military officers for all services.

By establishing relationships with its military personnel and veterans, the Lowcountry can leverage a powerful diaspora of servicemembers with Lowcountry ties as they live and work across Asia and the Pacific Islands. These future leaders can enable the Lowcountry to maximize its influence in the Asian shift.

Author: Major Brent W. Thompson is a military attorney, currently stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He wrote this essay in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

Note: This article was awarded first prize in the Lowcountry in the Asian Century Essay Competition

Footnotes

(1) See, e.g., Lieberthal, Kenneth, “The American Pivot to Asia,” Foreign Policy, 21 December 2011, at http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/12/21/the-american-pivot-to-asia/
(2) The White House, “Fact Sheet: Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific,” 16 November 2015, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/16/fact-sheet-advancing-rebalance-asia-and-pacific
(3) Ibid
(4) Von Nessen, Joseph C., “The Economic Impact of South Carolina’s Military Community: A Statewide and Regional Analysis,” University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, January 2015, at http://www.scmilitarybases.com/sites/default/files/u7/DOR_MBTF_FD2.pdf
(5) Ibid
(6) See, e.g., U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Situation of Veterans—2015,” 22 March 2016, at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/vet.pdf
(7) Klimas, Jacqueline, “Veterans more likely to volunteer, vote, serve community than civilians,” The Washington Times, 30 April 2015, at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/30/veterans-more-likely-to-volunteer-
vote-serve-commu/
(8) U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Five Reasons So Many Veterans Succeed in Business,” Free Enterprise, 20 June 2016, at https://www.freeenterprise.com/military-success-in-business/
(9) One example is Our Community Salutes, http://www.ourcommunitysalutes.us/, a national non-profit that assists communities in planning and resourcing enlistment recognition ceremonies

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Image Credit: Marine Corps via Flickr CC