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CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — Given the increased tempo of Marine Corps operations triggered by the conflict in Iraq, most are amazed that the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Basketball Tournament continues to be held.

“I’m happy just to have been able to participate in this tournament,” said Burrell Parmer of Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, a captain assigned to public affairs on Camp Foster.

About 175,000 serve in the Marines, with 25,000 of them on Okinawa. At any time, thousands more could be deployed, leaving duty sections stretched to the limit and the number of players available for tournaments at a premium.

It’s a problem felt throughout the service, and has an impact on the Marine Corps’ ability to field teams in all sports.

Suba Saty, the Armed Forces sports secretariat, said by telephone from Alexandria, Va., that the Marines will not field teams in the Armed Forces women’s soccer and volleyball tournaments, and will combine with the Navy, its sister service.

While morale, welfare and recreation are important in the Corps, “mission accomplishment is our primary focus,” Parmer said. “We have to be able to send people to support the mission. Every team, a lot of their players are (deployed), but we can’t do anything about that.”

“A lot of Marines don’t have the opportunity” to play in the tournament,” 1st Marine Aircraft Wing coach Greg Mitchell said. He cited former two-time All-Marine center Taurice McMillan as an example.

“You can imagine what it would be like if there was no war,” Mitchell said. “T-Mac is the most dominant big man on the island.”

Each of the five Marine commands on Okinawa represented in the event held tryouts in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

“They all picked from what was left behind,” Mitchell said.

Even then, Marines on Okinawa who get to play are placed on permissive temporary duty orders assigning them to the tournament. “They still have to go back to work for a while” after play is done, Parmer said.

Still fewer are the numbers of players available to go to the All-Marine tryout camp, scheduled to start later this month at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Mike Walker of Okinawa’s Marine Corps Community Services’ Semper Fit sports office, who oversees the Marine regional program, says only 30 of this tournament’s 98 players got the OK to go to camp.

Only “the best six, the top six individuals” are selected, he added.

“Some aren’t eligible because of the world situation right now,” Walker said, adding that he saw some among the 68 ineligibles he would have considered. “It’s not the most ideal situation, but we try to make the best of it.”

Parmer saw at least one positive in all the difficulty.

After years of domination by Marine Corps Base Hawaii (champion in 1999 and 2003) and 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force (2000, 2002), new blood reached this year’s championship — Wing and Base, the third and fourth seeds in the single-elimination playoffs.

“It made for a wide-open tournament,” he said. “Good competition.”

Armed Forces sports chiefs hope to keep basketball at the same time each year.

That the Marine regionals have jumped all over the calendar the past few years may seem an unwieldy way to do business on the surface.

In 2000 and 2002, they were held in October; they were canceled in 2001 due to Sept. 11. Last summer, the regionals took place in July. And this year? Mid-April.

According to Saty, when the Marine regionals, a qualifier for the Marine tryout camp and the All-Armed Forces tournament, are held is directly tied to when the International Military Sports Council (CISM) championship is scheduled.

Even this year, the CISM championship, scheduled for Zagreb, Croatia, was moved up a month, from July to June, due to “billeting and logistical” problems, Saty said.

Combined with the ops tempo, the constant change of CISM dates further complicates the ability of Marines to field teams in the regionals, Saty acknowledged. “It makes it tougher for them, because so many Marines are deployed.”

There’s some good news down the pike, he said — “Turkey is supposed to host” the 2005 CISM championship, “and at about the same time frame in 2005. Traditionally, CISM sports follow a certain guideline to stay in about the same time frame.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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