Military enhancement committee takes its case to Washington, DC

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Highlighting the strategic value and cost efficiencies of Beaufort and Port Royal’s three military installations, members of Beaufort’s Military Enhancement Committee took their message to Washington, DC, last week.
Committee members were scheduled to meet with members of South Carolina’s Congressional delegation, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), and with Rep. Jack Kingston  (R-GA) who represents counties involved with the Marine Corps’ Townsend Bombing Range.
The Tuesday-Wednesday meetings also included a session in the Marine Corps’ Commandant’s office and with staff at the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Both are involved in the push against sequestration.
“We have a dawn to dusk schedule, we have a lot of people to meet and a lot of details to cover, but we are excited about the mission,” said Col. John Payne, chairman of the Beaufort County Military Enhancement Committee.
“This is a fact-sharing trip,” Payne said. “With the issue of sequestration hanging over the Department of Defense and this nation, with tightening budgets and the likelihood of a BRAC that could close or re-align installations, we want to be sure as many people as possible in Washington understand the military value and the cost-effectiveness of our three installations.”
Key points to be shared in D.C. include:
• The Tri-Command at Beaufort is a national asset with military facilities capable of expansion to increase cost-efficiency, joint-basing and training opportunities, and military value;
• Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will be the Corps’ only F-35B training center, enjoys protected air space and local zoning prevents land encroachment, and provides unparalleled training with an inland bombing range, ocean TACTs range both within the local flying area;
• Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island has the capacity to train more than double the number of recruits and provides multiple onsite rifle and pistol ranges, field training facilities and the Crucible training, all on an island protected from encroachment by marshes, creeks and Port Royal Sound;
• Naval Hospital Beaufort provides medical and dental care to MCAS Beaufort and 17,000 annual MCRD Parris Island recruits, plus estimated 8 percent of the local population who are DoD retirees and dependents.
Those training- and cost-efficiencies, and capacities to expand, are critically important because of increased federal budget pressures, including sequestration, Payne said.
As a result of the failure of the Super Committee to reach agreement on budget reduction measures, the Congress enacted a “sequestration” process to begin Jan. 1, 2013, which will cut approximately $600 billion from the Department of Defense over the next 10 years — on top of the agreed-to Defense Department reduction of about $500 billion.
Worse still, the sequestration cuts are across-the-board, affecting every element of the military, said Col. Jack Snider, vice-chairman of the Military Enhancement Committee and a former F/A-18 pilot and commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Residents can visit www.beaufortmec.com to find a complete list of S.C. Congressional emails, key points and sample letters regarding the potential defense cuts. The chamber, Beaufort County Council and others are urging grassroots opposition to sequestration.
Members of the MEC also were scheduled to meet with representatives of Lockheed-Martin, maker of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and of the Aerospace Industries Association.
“Our military installations are cost-effective and don’t face encroachment or development pressures,” said Blakely Williams, president of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. “They provide unique and valuable training to our military. That’s the message we need to be sure our leaders in Washington and Columbia understand.
“Every community with a military base receives economic benefits,” she said. “We are no different there — but we are different in that we can quantify the cost-efficiencies and training efficiencies at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and at Naval Hospital-Beaufort.
“Looking at the value, the opportunities to expand and the efficiencies, it makes sense for the military to be in Beaufort,” she said.