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As barracks are renovated, Fort Jackson's surge lessens

Fort Jackson's usual summer surge of Army recruits who enter basic training after high school graduation will slip by about 3,000 soldiers this summer, but the reduction isn't worrying officials at the service's largest training installation.

The cut is due to a simple lack of beds: Fort Jackson is three years into a $1 billion, eight-year barracks renovation.

Other basic training installations are picking up the slack for a time, and there will be no slide in the overall number of recruits entering the service, according to Fort Jackson's chief operating officer.

“We are doing fewer this summer surge than in a traditional summer, about 3,000 fewer,” Stephen Pinette said in an interview.

Even with the slight dip in recruits over the summer months, Fort Jackson will retain its place as the service's top basic training installation, Pinette said, graduating about 50,000 enlisted soldiers every year. That amounts to about 54 percent of the soldiers who enter the Army and about 74 percent of its female enlistees.

“We are the Wal-Mart of basic training,” he quipped. “Our basic is basic training.”

Because of what Pinette describes as a “startling change” in how the Army does its business, Fort Jackson's traditional summer “surge” may end as well.

Normally, Fort Jackson starts training anywhere from 900 to 1,500 enlistees every week over the summer months. /During the fall and winter of years past, the level could drop dramatically as only 300 to 600 new soldiers might enter basic training.

Pinette said Fort Jackson has gotten approval to even out its flow of recruits throughout the year, trying to maintain a steady flow of six companies – about 220 soldiers per company for a total of about 1,320 – entering basic training every week, Pinette said.

“The Army has decided to try to even out the load, to level out what we do,” he said, adding, “We've tried to flatten the load here so there is no surge force anymore.”

The change also allows training units some breathing time between their 11-week cycles of training.

It gives those units time to maintain and service their weapons, trucks, night-vision goggles and other equipment. It also gives drill sergeants some down time between their punishing training schedules, which often translate into 20-hour days overseeing the young recruits from early in the morning to very late into the night.

“You're talking about a fundamental difference in how the Army does business,” Pinette said.

The officer said the plan is in line with the Army's plan to grow in size over the coming years.

The Pentagon has said it intends to grow the Army to meet the demands of a nation at war. Earlier this year, Pentagon officials said the active duty Army, which currently has about 531,000 soldiers, is expected to expand to about 547,000 overall.

Other basic training sites that may pick up some of the summer trainees once headed to Jackson include Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Sill, Okla., Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Benning, Ga.