Bill Connor -- Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney -- wrote recently about the University of South Carolina board's rejection of presidential finalist retired Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.
Caslen, who recently served as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, was the target of student protests regarding remarks about preventing sexual assault on campus. Subsequently, the board removed him from consideration for the presidency.
"Veterans in South Carolina, particularly we veterans with service in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, took the protest and dismissal of Caslen as a slap in the face. The protesters' claim that Caslen's 'entire career' was 'counter to the values of the university' was spitting in the face of the military in South Carolina."
Caslen said of the outcome: "After what I experienced last Friday, who would want to go back to an environment like that?”
Though Caslen's reference was specifically to USC, Connor said the entire matter reflects badly on South Carolina, its military tradition and its important ties to the military.
South Carolina is home to eight major military installations and more than 417,000 military veterans. That includes one of every 10 adults in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
About a quarter of South Carolinians are directly related to the military. The economic impact to the state exceeds $24 billion annually, comprising more than 8% of the state’s economy.
And while it is not likely to get the attention of the Caslen protest and rejection, recent action by state leaders shows the state is determined to be military-friendly.
On April 30, Gov. Henry McMaster signed legislation to create the South Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We’re changing a name, changing a focus, changing a context and promoting the vision of veterans' affairs to a full-fledged agency in South Carolina,” McMaster said. “It’s important that our veterans, through a cabinet agency, have the status, attention and focus they have earned through their service to our state and country.”
The mission of the new cabinet agency also incorporates the South Carolina Military Base Task Force, which was established through executive order by former Gov. Nikki Haley to enhance the value of our state’s military installations, as well as the quality of life for military personnel and their families. The task force has coordinated efforts among public and private sectors to maintain a significant U.S. Department of Defense presence in South Carolina.
“The new Department of Veterans Affairs will work with federal, state and local partners to connect veterans to programs and services they deserve and are entitled to,” said Lexington Sen. Katrina Shealy, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Family and Veterans’ Services and a sponsor of the bill. “It will also codify and strengthen the Military Base Task Force, which helps South Carolina enhance the lives of service members and veterans, and protect the valuable investments in our state.”
Medal of Honor recipient M. Gen. James Livingston of Mount Pleasant, in his remarks at the bill signing, said the new agency is a major step forward. He said it is step one in encouraging veterans to settle in South Carolina. Step two would be passage of legislation to complete the full exemption of state tax on military retirement income, he said.
South Carolina welcomes veterans and wants them served well.
As task force Chairman Bill Bethea stated: “This act elevates the issues of veterans and the military to the executive level, which demonstrates that our state’s commitment to serving veterans and supporting our nation’s defense is second to none. We are very grateful for the governor’s leadership and the General Assembly’s support to accomplish this major advancement for our veterans and military.”