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Marines Weigh Closing Parris Island & San Diego to Open New Coed Boot Camp

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Salty Dog

Marines Weigh Closing Parris Island and San Diego to Open New Coed Boot Camp

24 Sep 2020

Military.com | By Gina Harkins

The Marine Corps is considering a plan in which it could close its two existing boot camp locations and funnel all recruits to a new base where men and women would train together.

Marine entry-level training is a long way off from being able to meet a congressional mandate to make its East and West coast training bases both able to support gender-integrated training in the coming years, the Corps' top general said on Thursday.

That is leading the service to study the option of opening a third training base in a new location to which all new recruits would ship, rather than spending cash on construction projects at aging training bases.

"Nothing, the way we're organized right now, lends itself to integrated recruit training," Commandant Gen. David Berger said on Thursday. "If that's our start point -- and it is -- we have to get to a place on both coasts, or at third location or whatever we end up with, that ... there are male and female recruits around."

Both the Marine Corps' recruit training depots have storied pasts -- particularly Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, which was first used by Marines in the 1890s. Hundreds of thousands of Marines have stood on the famous yellow footprints on each base at the start of their careers before earning the coveted eagle, globe and anchor and title of Marine.

But with a new law bearing down on the service to make both locations support coed training -- within five years at Parris Island and eight at San Diego -- the Marine Corps is exploring different options, Maj. Eric Flanagan, Berger's spokesman told Military.com.

"The question becomes, 'Are we better off just using [military construction] dollars to create a new third site, or put that money into our existing sites?'" he said. "No decisions have been made. We're not investing any money anywhere else. It's just an option we're talking about."

The Marine Corps hasn't yet identified a state where the new boot camp location might be located, Flanagan said. In assessing the possible change though, he said they're considering a lot more than just the need for coed squad bays and other facility changes to support gender-integrated boot camp.

Parris Island sits on South Carolina's coast, just north of Hilton Head, leaving it susceptible to hurricanes. And in California, recruits leave the recruit depot, which butts up against San Diego International Airport, to complete some of their needed training at nearby Camp Pendleton.

Having two boot camp sites also creates redundancies, Flanagan said. Historically, all female recruits and men who live east of the Mississippi River train at Parris Island. Male recruits west of the Mississippi ship to San Diego.

"If you have to update a lot anyway, do you save manpower, resources and personnel by just combining the two into one?" Flanagan said.

If the Marine Corps were to move boot camp away from its fabled training bases, Kate Germano, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who led Parris Island's female 4th Recruit Training Battalion, said leaders must explain their reasoning in full. Otherwise, she said she worries male Marines would blame women for the loss of tradition.

"There would be so much animus there, as if there isn't already enough," Germano said.

Women first began training at Parris Island in the 1940s, but it wasn't until last year that the training base saw the first-ever coed company graduate. The Marine Corps continues to fight to keep its platoons segregated by gender, though it has trained several more coed companies.

Germano said she's concerned plans to create an all-new training base would slow boot camp gender-integration efforts.

"The way the Marine Corps has kicked this can down the road consistently, it's a delay tactic in my view," Germano said. She was relieved of command in 2015 for what she says was an effort to push for better, more equitable training for women. Marine officials contended at the time she was relieved because she was a toxic leader.

There can be a years-long lag between a planned military construction project, Germano said, and "shovels in the dirt."

"The big question that I have is, where is this on the Marine Corps' list of priorities, and why isn't it at the top?" she said.

A Marine Corps memo on the service's plans to make boot camp gender-neutral released last month referred to it as such.

"Gender integration at Marine Corps Recruit Training remains a top priority," the plan submitted to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services states. "The outcome the Marine Corps desires for gender integration is for every male recruit to train alongside a female recruit within the same company."

But for a service that has struggled to embrace coed training, Richard Kohn, a history professor who studies the U.S. military at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said a new training site could serve as a fresh start.

"If they build something from the ground up, they'll be able to make it exactly as they want to facilitate integrated training," Kohn added. "And second of all, if they get rid of Parris Island, it might dilute the traditionalist emotions."

Kohn said the move is likely to face pushback from members of Congress interested in keeping the bases -- along with their associated workforces -- in their states.

Flanagan said it's too early to say whether a new boot camp site would mean the Marine Corps would get rid of its two coastal-area bases. Closing military bases can take years, but the real estate in California and South Carolina could prove valuable.

Ultimately, Kohn said, the decision could come down to cost.

"The bean counters usually [decide] these things," he said.



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Salty Dog

'Ain't Gonna Happen!' Politicians Vow to 'Fight Like Hell' to Protect Parris Island from Closure

25 Sep 2020

Military.com | By Gina Harkins

The mere possibility of the Marine Corps shaking up where it trains new recruits has drawn swift backlash -- at least in one state.

Political leaders in South Carolina are "activating" a task force to meet next week following Military.com's exclusive Thursday report that the Marine Corps is weighing the option of opening a new boot camp site. Such a move would mean a big change for the service, which has historically sent new enlistees to its legendary recruit depots in San Diego and Parris Island, South Carolina.

"It ain't gonna happen!" Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, tweeted on Friday. "If you're looking to save money -- let's start with cutting those people who think closing Parris Island is a good idea.

"Anyone in the Navy or Marine Corps thinking about closing Parris Island has limited growth potential," Graham, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel, added.

Marine leaders have stressed that no decisions about changing training sites have been made. The Post and Courier newspaper in South Carolina reported that leaders in the state said they'd still been blindsided by the news that a change was even possible.

"The heart of the United States Marine Corps beats on Parris Island, and Beaufort County has proudly welcomed recruits from all over the country for generations," Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, said in a statement to Military.com. "I am confident that as they review plans for consolidated training, the Marine Corps will determine that Parris Island makes the most sense both financially and logistically to train Marines for decades to come. Parris Island will not close."

Rep. Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat, tweeted on Friday, that he'll "fight like hell" to keep Parris Island open.

"Our Lowcountry military bases are so important to our culture, economy, and national security," he said, referring to the state's coastal region.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, also stressed the importance of the training depot's historic and economic ties to the state.

"Simply put, there is nothing Governor McMaster won't do to protect Parris Island and its status as one of the best military training installations in the world," Brian Symmes, McMaster's spokesman, said.

Capt. Joe Butterfield, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said the service is "simply exploring all options" as it faces a congressional mandate to make its entry-level enlisted training coed. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act directs the Marine Corps to implement gender-integrated training at Parris Island within five years and at San Diego within eight.

Female recruits currently only ship to Parris Island, and have historically trained in separate companies from men. That changed last year when the first-ever coed company graduated from Parris Island.

The Marine Corps has since trained more coed companies, but Commandant Gen. David Berger said on Thursday that the service's aging training facilities at its depots won't support it year-round.

"Nothing, the way we're organized right now, lends itself to integrated recruit training," Berger said, adding that they'd need to make changes on both coasts or look at a "third location."

Butterfield added on Friday that, due to a variety of limitations, "neither Marine Corps Recruit Depots Parris Island nor San Diego are currently able to optimally train recruits in an integrated environment."

"We are exploring all options to accomplish this integration, while also realizing the vision of the 38th Commandant's Planning Guidance related to modernization of our training facilities to ensure our Marines remain capable, relevant and lethal in the future," he said.

McMaster announced on Friday that the South Carolina Military Base Task Force "has been activated." Next week, the governor tweeted, "federal, state and local officials will convene for a commanders briefing on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island."

The task force, according to the state's website, coordinates with public and private sectors "to maintain a significant U.S. Department of Defense presence in South Carolina." The task force also addresses quality-of-life issues for service members and their families in the state.

The governor's office did not respond to questions about how much revenue Parris Island brings to the state annually. Though boot camp graduations have been halted during the coronavirus pandemic, they typically bring people from across the country to South Carolina.



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