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Parris Island rumors a wake-up call for citizens of Beaufort

6 mins read

By Mike McCombs

That roar you may hear is the collective buzz coming from the Lowcountry’s elected leaders reacting to the news late last week that the United States Marine Corps would consider closing its two training bases – including Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island – and open a new base where the training of male and female recruits would be consolidated.

Closing Parris Island would put an end to more than 100 years of Lowcountry and American history and subtract a big chunk of change from Beaufort’s economy that won’t be replaced.

“It ain’t gonna happen!” tweeted South Carolina’s senior U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham. “If you’re looking to save money — let’s start with cutting those people who think closing Parris Island is a good idea. Anyone in the Navy or Marine Corps thinking about closing Parris Island has limited growth potential.”

Graham wasn’t the only one to speak up. The Palmetto State’s other senator, Tim Scott, as well as Graham’s opposition in the upcoming election, Democrat Jaime Harrison released statements opposing the closing of Parris Island.

“The heart of the United States Marine Corps beats on Parris Island, and Beaufort County has proudly welcomed recruits from all over the country for generations,” Scott said in a statement. “I am confident that as they review plans for consolidated training, the Marine Corps will determine that Parris Island makes the most sense both financially and logistically to train Marines for decades to come. Parris Island will not close.”

Congressman Joe Cunningham of South Carolina’s 1st District and his Republican opponent Nancy Mace also responded. In fact, Mace is going the distance. Just after 4 a.m. Tuesday, the state representative announced a noon press conference at Parris Island to discuss the rumors, and then Tuesday evening, Mace announced another press conference for noon Wednesday in Mt. Pleasant.

Beaufort’s state representatives and senators – Shannon Smith Erickson and Tom Davis among them – were vocal as well. As were the mayors of Beaufort and Port Royal, Billy Keyserling and Joe Devito, respectfully. They were both caught off guard by the news.

Most were cautious, and all were steadfast in their defenses of Parris Island.

None of their responses should be surprising. It’s the politically prudent thing to do, even if Parris Island did need to be closed. (Close your emails, I’m not saying it DOES.)

For now, let’s just assume everyone is on the same page and everyone’s interest in keeping Parris Island open is genuine.

In the recent past, the main concern about Beaufort’s military bases – MCAS Beaufort, Naval Hospital Beaufort and MCRD Parris Island – was that they were increasingly susceptible to hurricanes and increased flooding because of climate change and rising sea levels.

But this time around, Parris Island is being threatened by an elephant in the room.

As cited in Military.com’s original story, there is a congressional mandate to have both USMC training bases “able to support gender-integrated training in the coming years.”

Right now, it’s simple. They’re not.

“Nothing, the way we’re organized right now, lends itself to integrated recruit training,” U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told Military.com. “If that’s our start point – and it is – we have to get to a place on both coasts, or a third location or whatever we end up with, that … there are male and female recruits around.”

(Just an aside here … so would Gen. Berger be one of the men Sen. Graham was insulting? I don’t need an answer.)

But there IS good news.

Even if Parris Island isn’t up to the task of “integrated recruit training,” neither is any place else the Marines currently operate. And given how the wheels of government turn, a consolidated base in a third location is just an idea at this point. To open one may take a decade or longer.

The Military.com story and the reaction surrounding it simply acts as a wake-up call for the voters and elected officials of Beaufort County, the Lowcountry and South Carolina, as a whole.

A Parris Island closure may happen. Or it may not. But now, the right parties may be motivated to ensure it doesn’t.

The last time someone with any weight suggested out loud that Parris Island might close, it was a U.S. Senator. That Senator warned the nation in the summer of 2012 that if impending sequestration – remember that fun word? – wasn’t avoided, the U.S. Marines would likely have to close one or both of their recruit depots.

Of course, sequestration happened … but neither recruit depot closed.

I guess Lindsay Graham was wrong then. I hope he’s right, this time.

 

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

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