MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. --
Leaders representing the local military as well as civilian institutions throughout Onslow County gathered for a region-sized pow-wow at the 16th Annual State of the Community Breakfast, held at the Officers’ Club aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, Feb. 3.
The growth plans of Jacksonville, MCAS New River and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, the economic status and higher education of the Onslow County community were among many topics of discussion at the meeting.
In the most military-friendly place to be in the nation, the Onslow County community is always in tune with what’s going on with its brothers and sisters in the armed forces.
“I love Marine Corps Air Station New River,” said Col. Jeffrey Hewlett, commanding officer for MCAS New River and host of the breakfast. “We are the world’s center of excellence for tilt-rotor aviation. We have more than 100 V-22s on the line, representing about $8 billion. We’re very proud of that, and we’re also home to all the rotary wing aviation for II Marine Expeditionary Force.”
Hewlett said that MCAS New River was honored to house the event, which was hosted by the Jacksonville - Onslow Chamber of Commerce. He added that he was proud to be amongst such a distinguished group of visitors at the State of the Community breakfast and hoped to continue to build the military-civil partnership that has been intact for more than 70 years.
“This September will mark the 10th anniversary of the attack on 9/11,” said Hewlett. “Ten years and we’re still fighting for peace in foreign lands. We are now fully focused and engaged in Afghanistan, having cut the cord to Iraq last year. Although peace is always the preferred course of action for Marines, we are generally the happiest in ‘the fight,’ normally anywhere the enemy chooses.”
Hewlett added that while it has been several years since the nation has suffered an attack, one cannot afford to be complacent and think the events of 9/11 will not happen again.
“Unfortunately, we are still a nation at war and we have re-doubled our security efforts here aboard the base,” said Hewlett. “The Marine Corps does not intend to be an easy target for anyone who may want to do us harm. We have focused on (increased) security throughout the base. We ask for your continued patience and understanding while dealing with potentially longer traffic lines and tighter identification requirements at the gates.”
A moment later, Hewlett asked those in attendance to look at the brighter side of the situation. Despite all the new renovations and construction aboard the base, it’s still a lot easier to get aboard New River than it is to MCB Camp Lejeune, as he pointed to Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune.
“My priorities are what you might expect them to be as a base commander,” said Lecce. “First, training and operations: it’s a top priority. That’s why we exist.”
Second, Lecce said, is to manage installation growth, with an increased need in a robust traffic management plan. The third is to provide quality services to the Marines and their families. The fourth priority is safety for all Marines, family members and civilians aboard the base. The last priority is to have a strong energy and conservation plan.
Lecce said that with regard to the base expansion and modernization, there are many facilities originally built in the 1940s, with a road structure established during the same era. The goal is to try and get everything ‘up to speed’ to accommodate for the increase in manpower after the Grow the Force plan.
“I have 47,000 Marines alone on the base,” said Lecce. “That’s not including family members, civilian employees and contractors. So, the base gets full very quickly and we just do not have the infrastructure to handle it – but we’re getting there now. We have the perfect storm of construction in the next three years. During those three years, there is going to be some ‘pain’ involved.”
Right now, the base is managing $3.53 billion of military construction over four years from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2012. The construction, however, has been programmed over a five year period so the remainder of the construction will see completion in calendar year 2015.
“This year, I’m managing $1 billion in construction, with approximately $2 million in construction per day,” said Lecce. “You can see a lot of vertical construction is going on and some road construction, and that’s going to increase. We’ve added a lot of child development centers, another 200 family housing units, a major Marine Corps Exchange expansion, the Wallace Creek Regimental Area, the Naval Hospital expansion, the Wounded Warrior Complex and the Fisher House and the Hope and Care Center.”
Other speakers included Jeff Hudson, the Onslow County Manager; Dr. Kathy Spencer, superintendent of Onslow County Schools; Dr. Ed Piper, chief executive officer with Onslow County Memorial Hospital; and Dr. Ronald Lingle, president of the Coastal Carolina Community College.
They spoke on how Onslow County is making advances in public safety, a stronger partnership between the area schools and colleges, medical staff expansion and how the graduates of CCCC continue to outperform other alumni from state and private community colleges.
“I am very proud to stand before you today to tell you that the state of Jacksonville is good,” said Mayor Sammy Phillips, the mayor of the City of Jacksonville. “But I want to bring you a vision that we can be even better. Jacksonville is a great place to live, work and play and we continue to see new opportunities in the way of new businesses located in our city. It’s no longer necessary, especially in these times of rising gas prices, to drive as far as Raleigh or Wilmington, or other cities to find that special something on a shopping trip.”
The state of Jacksonville begins with a piece of mind, said Phillips. That includes the recognition that it is the second safest city in North Carolina and that it is a great place to raise a family, find a job and that it is known for a great relationship between the civilian and military communities, said Phillips.
“Second to none,” said Phillips. “Our financial picture is extremely good. We’ve been very blessed in our area here, with the economy having ‘tanked’ in other places. We’ve survived pretty well on a bad economy. We’re doing everything we can to hold the line in these tough times. I’m very proud of the relations that we share with the schools, the hospital and the military here.”
As the conference came to an end, Phillips shared a quote from Henry David Thoreau to exemplify the overall aim of the meeting of great leaders.
“‘The question is not what you look at, but what you see,’” said Phillips. “That’s what we’re trying to create for Jacksonville; we want to be a community that we can all be proud citizens of.”