Local officials didn't know the Marines are considering closing Parris Island. What now?
By LANA FERGUSON AND KATHERINE KOKAL | The Island Packet | Published: September 25, 2020
HILTON HEAD, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — Even officials close to Parris Island seemed just as blindsided as the rest of the community when news broke Friday that the U.S. Marine Corps is considering closing its Port Royal recruiting depot as it moves toward gender-integrated facilities across the country.
They joined the thousands of Parris Island graduates and families affected by the news, which came down from Marine Corps commandant Gen. David H. Berger on Thursday.
A report says the military branch is considering closing its only two boot camps, Parris Island and San Diego, to create a third, new co-educational depot.
Port Royal Mayor Joe Devito said he found out about the announcement through reading the newspaper Friday morning.
“I’m obviously a little bit surprised that the announcement came out in that way,” he said, adding that news like this can “get a lot of people concerned.”
“This is a big part of Port Royal’s history,” he said, explaining that the depot is located within town limits. “We’re engaged all the time with the base and we’re ready to work with them in any way we can to keep them here.”
‘All the local officials in Beaufort and Port Royal are actively engaged in what’s happening here now and are going to stay on top of it,” DeVito said. “We’re ready to join in on this conversation to help them make the decision to keep the base here.”
When reached Friday morning, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling was unaware of the news. He asked to take a moment to read about the details and call the reporter back.
“I’m interested,” Keyserling said after a long pause. “I don’t see it as a decision. I see it as a consideration.”
He called it a “heads up” of sorts.
“But until after the election I tend to be skeptical of any rumors, innuendos, suggestions that come out of Washington by either party and believe that we should be diligent,” he said.
He said nothing will happen overnight, but if the time comes the community will rally around Parris Island.
“(The recruiting depot) is extraordinarily important to us. It’s part of our history,” he said. “It’s been more than 100 years of a fabulous relationship between the Beaufort community and the Marine Corps and we would not want to see that change.”
As a Beaufortonian and local leader, Keyserling knows how closely interlaced the community and Parris Island are. He says it’s a major asset for the surrounding area, an economic driver, and a historic monument “that needs to be preserved, not just the physical but the operational side as well.”
A reporter was also the first one to tell Beaufort County Administrator Ashley Jacobs about the possible closure on Friday morning.
“It’s a bit of a surprise,” she said. “ It would be a real blow to Beaufort County’s economy, so obviously we’re very concerned about it.”
State representatives were also surprised by the news.
Republican S.C. Sen. Tom Davis learned of it from a reporter Friday morning. He said he was surprised to hear of the Corps’ plans.
Still, he was skeptical of the immediacy of any moves on Parris Island.
“I would question how far along or how serious that actually is,” he said. “Parris Island is an institution in Beaufort County and is integral to making Marines. It has been for generations.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Joe Cunningham said Friday he did not know about the potential closure before it was reported in the Military Times.
“(Cunningham) is keenly aware of how important our Lowcountry military installations are — especially Parris Island — to the Lowcountry’s culture, economy, and national security,” spokesperson Rebecca Drago told The Island Packet.
In 2019, Cunningham led an amendment in the House that will protect Lowcountry installations from closing by prohibiting funds from being used for a base realignment and closure, she said.
Cunningham and his team are working on next steps, but Drago said he “will do whatever he can to protect Parris Island.