The future of Marine Corps Aviation, the F-35B

in Voices by

A Message from the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Military Enhancement Committee (MEC) of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce had an incredible opportunity recently to meet with members of Congress, representatives of Lockheed Martin and a unique opportunity to meet and talk with Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle, Jr., USMC, Deputy Commandant for Aviation.

The committee was able to discuss several topic areas and at the request of the committee, Gen. Schmidle approved an F-35B fly-in for a public viewing. On August 20th, (2) F-35B, Lightning II’s, split the runway at MCAS Beaufort and gave both military and community leaders a first hand look at the future of Marine Corps aviation. Community and military leaders were treated to an up close look at the aircraft.

Back row from left: Jim Wegman and Skeet Von Harten. Front row: Blakely Williams, Col. John Payne, Jon Rembold, Alice Howard, Jimmy Boozer and Col. Jack Snider.
Back row from left: Jim Wegman and Skeet Von Harten. Front row: Blakely Williams, Col. John Payne, Jon Rembold, Alice Howard, Jimmy Boozer and Col. Jack Snider.

Lt. Gen. Schmidle reported the first F-35Bs for VMFAT-501 would arrive in Beaufort by the summer of 2014. When asked about the possibility of the Marine Corps building an Auxiliary Landing Field, Gen. Schmidle responded he would like to see it happen, but there was no long term plan in place. He also applauded and strongly supported the community’s joint effort with DoD to protect the Air Station from encroachment.

On the subject of a possible BRAC, Gen. Schmidle stated the Marine Corps was making a long term commitment to MCAS Beaufort in bringing the F-35B to “Fightertown”. With both training squadrons being located in Beaufort, “Fightertown” will be the initial training home for all future Marine F-35 pilots. Beaufort is truly poised to be the Center of Excellence for the Marine Corps F-35B program which will solidify our role in the national defense mission, and will be a positive impact not only to our local economy but also to any potential future BRAC.

The often asked question of the “need” for the F-35B in Beaufort was answered in the affirmative by senior Marine Corps officials during their strategic planning and formulation of a basing plan. As a result of the December 2010 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Beaufort was selected to be the home of two F-35B training squadrons and three F-35B operational squadrons. Likewise, questions of noise, health, and safety are often cited as detractors to the plane. These topics were also addressed in the EIS prior to the decision to bring the F-35B to Beaufort. A comprehensive “Noise Test” on the F-35 was done at the Edwards AFB lakebed acoustic test range and the noise levels were found comparable to or less than current Navy aircraft. The F-35B has already been operational at Eglin, AFB and at MCAS Yuma.

The detractors of devalued property, health concerns and degradation of quality of life are simply not supported by objective data or the communities that are within three miles of the bases that are currently home to the F-35B. To imply that the Marines don’t have a “stake” in these basic human concerns is simply irresponsible. Marines, Sailors, DoD employees, civilian contractors, etc. all live, work, raise families, buy real property, and pay taxes in Beaufort County. We all have a stake in our community, our national defense and a strong local economy. The cornerstone of the success of our bases is the forging of an impenetrable bond between our bases and our community for the greater good of all. Special interests should not usurp national security and defense readiness.

The future of Marine Corps Aviation, the F-35B, is coming to Beaufort. The decision has long been made and our continued goal should be to strengthen the unique bond between our community and our local bases to ensure the continued growth and viability of our bases and our economy. The economic impact of our bases on our local economy is approximately $1.5 billion a year. The loss of any one base in this area would be a devastating blow to our national security mission and our local economy. The volunteer members of the MEC all live, work, vote, own property, pay taxes and have raised or are raising families in the Beaufort County area. They volunteer countless hours to ensure the existence and growth of our local bases through collaboration with the State of South Carolina, other local communities with military bases in South Carolina, and our local Congressional Delegation.