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We’ve been down this Parris Island road before

6 mins read

By SCOTT GRABER

It is Saturday, Oct. 3, and it’s brisk.

This morning there is the thought we can give our HVAC compressors a much needed rest; and the notion we may have survived another season without a hurricane. But, of course, there are other storms in Beaufort County.

Last month we learned that the Marine Corps is looking at Parris Island and, once again, thinking about closing the Recruit Training Depot. This revelation has sent a seismic shock wave through our low-lying, water-soaked county.

It is not clear to me what, exactly, has triggered this latest inquiry, but there has been a training problem focused on the Women Marines who get their boot camp initiation on the Island. This would be the 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

The problem, historically, is a “performance gap” between the men and the women when it comes to training outcomes. And because the training regimen of the women has been less demanding than the men, there is the persisting belief that the value of a female Marine is not the same as a male Marine.

“Because they aren’t challenged to compete with their male counterparts during physical fitness events, most (female recruits) only aspire to achieve female standards for physical performance, which many would justifiably argue are to low to begin with,” Lt. Col. Kate Germano wrote in an editorial that was never published in the Marine Corps Gazette. “The truth is the when female recruits are held to higher standards, they rise to the occasion.”

This ongoing debate about different training standards, and different training experiences, has led to the belief that the men and women should train together — not separately as is the case at Parris Island. Perhaps a common, co-ed training experience would dispel the belief that a woman Marine is not quite the same as a male Marine?

Then the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 came to the table requiring that Parris Island integrate its training in five years. This was followed by a recent Marine Corps report that puts a brand new, integrated boot camp in play as an alternative to Parris Island and San Diego.

Many years ago I had a good friend, Steve Cheney, who happened to be the Commanding General at Parris Island. Steve and I met at the Parris Island Swimming Pool which was then used by the Parris Island Masters Swim Team.

Steve and I often traveled to swim meets; and after he retired we both went to civil war-torn Cote d’Ivoire.

Sometimes, after a swim meet, we would find ourselves driving back to Beaufort talking about the 200 butterfly. Sometimes, after meeting with the Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, we would find ourselves talking about the physical limitations on the rifle range at Parris Island.

Several weeks ago I wrote to Steve asking about the current thinking about Parris Island and basic training in the Marine Corps. He replied:

Parris Island faces several problems. Sea Level rise is becoming more of a problem, as are black flag days — too hot to train. And no proximity to a major airport — they have shifted from Charleston to Savannah a few times, and I think (they are) using Charleston now.

Given the strong South Carolina delegation, nothing will happen in the near term. If Graham and Trump both lose, things could change, but I doubt it. There is no appetite for another BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing), making it nearly impossible to close bases unless some catastrophic event — i.e. hurricane. But even then it is hard (look at Tyndall AFB, decimated, but being kept alive in Florida.)

When I asked Steve about the Women Marines, he wrote:

The pressure for gender integration is problematic for Parris Island and San Diego. They just can’t do it at San Diego, and I’ve long felt they ought to close that Depot and move it to Camp Pendleton (where they do 1/3 of he training anyway.)

Parris Island has plenty of room to expand (Page Airfield), and it already brings all the women there. New barracks are not that expensive or hard to build. Regardless, the Marines have at least 5 years to figure this out. I don’t believe they can do it at San Diego. The answer might be a split between Parris Island and Camp Pendleton.

As air temperatures continue to rise, and low-lying flooding increases, we should probably expect more institutional re-evaluations like this. But Beaufortonians are a resolute, resilient population who have always loved the Marine Corps. And we’ve been down this road before.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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