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Too early to predict Marine Corps' future at Parris Island, base leader says

Marine instructors with Drill Instructor School aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island instruct and mentor Drill Instructor School candidates during close-order drill practice on Parris Island, S.C., on April 17, 2019.

DANA BEESLEY/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By MAAYAN SCHECHTER AND STEPHEN FASTENAU | The State | Published: October 1, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — A U.S. Marine Corps officer told South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and other military leaders Thursday it’s “too early” to say whether it’ll shutter its boot camp on Parris Island — news that stunned state and local leaders after a report last month.

“What the commandant (Gen. David Berger) articulated is that we’re looking at all the things that are on the table,” said Marine Corps Col. Riccardo Player. “Are we looking at all options? Absolutely. It would be too early to say this is exactly what we’re going to do right now in 2020. ... To limit ourselves to one course of action, to one avenue would be premature.”

The possible closure was first reported last month by Military.com, which said the Marine Corps was weighing plans to close boot camps on Parris Island — in Port Royal on the coast between Beaufort and Hilton Head Island — and San Diego, directing all future recruits to a new co-education base.

“It seems to me, it’s clear that Parris Island has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages,” McMaster said.

About 6,100 people work at the depot, carrying an economic impact of $739.8 million, says the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The location of a new base was not identified in the report. But it mentioned the costs of construction projects at the aging bases.

The Marine Corps had not publicly commented on the report before Thursday.

But the rumored plans follow action by Congress last year when it passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which required the Marine Corps to fully gender-integrate its basic training. Women have been training at Parris Island since the 1940s, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the Corps’ training base reported its first co-ed company graduate.

Each year, about 20,000 Marine recruits — male recruits from east of the Mississippi and all of the service’s female recruits — pass through Parris Island. Male recruits from the western half of the country report to San Diego.

Beyond the integration and before consolidation chatter, observers warned of Parris Island’s susceptibility to climate change.

Last year, a former base commander said that the Marines may need to eventually abandon the island because of rising seas and stronger storms. A 2019 government report concluded military leaders had not done enough to prepare for climate change.

Areas of Parris Island that now flood 10 days each year could flood 100 days of the year by 2050, according to the Center for Climate Security. By 2100, 75% of the island could flood during high tides, the group says.

Kacen Bayless and Kate Hidalgo Bellows contributed to this report.

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