MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE --
The city of Jacksonville has an intrinsic link to the military facilities bordering its area, so when news of budget cuts and personnel reductions to the Marine Corps is released, the city knows it will face the burden along with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River.
During the 17th annual State of the Community Breakfast, held by the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce's Governmental Affairs Committee in Jacksonville Feb. 14, leaders gathered to discuss changes throughout the community and its bases in the upcoming year.
Recent budget cuts to the Department of Defense will lead to reductions in troops across MCB Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River in the upcoming years. The Marine Corps is facing cuts which will decrease its numbers from 202,000 Marines to around 182,100. While the numbers are sure to decrease, the pacing of these changes is unknown.
"(The changes) will be driven by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan," said Col. Daniel J. Lecce, the MCB Camp Lejeune commanding officer.
Deployments will continue, with the number of deployed Marines and sailors decreasing from approximately 9,000-15,000 to 7,000-10,000. The amount of Marines and sailors in the area is expected to surge temporarily, as troops retrograde, but will lower as the troop drawback takes effect.
"While we understand military resizing will have an impact on the economy of our community, it is not the time to spread doom and gloom," said Sammy Phillips, the Jacksonville city mayor. "We must stay focused on positive long-term benefits that our community has received through the military buildup."
Construction aboard the base is expected to continue, per the Grow the Force initiative. It will include roadwork, more housing, more child development centers and a new fitness center. With the recent addition of 19,000 rooms for single Marines and sailors, they will no longer receive basic allowance for housing to live off base.
Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune will grow and receive more renovations and the Wounded Warrior Battalion will gain a new headquarters building which is expected to open in spring or summer, along with the Hope and Care center which should open in the fall or winter.
"The growth is needed to modernize the base," said Lecce. "(It will improve) the buildings and the sewer, water, utilities and the roads."
Lecce noted how the base had not changed much in the decades before current construction, and how after 2015 the construction will stop and the base will go into sustainment.
“I just want to thank the county and the city for their incredible cooperation,” said Lecce. “We could not do this construction without them. We have a tremendous community here and we, the Marines and sailors at (MCB) Camp Lejeune, do not take that for granted.”
MCAS New River has also experienced unprecedented growth recently, said Col. Jeffrey Hewlett, the air station’s commanding officer.
"It's been quite the impressive year for us," said Hewlett. "We have brand-new barracks, a new state of the art mess hall, that just won mess hall of the quarter, and this year, we are starting new projects."
The new projects include a large hangar, more housing, roadwork to improve access to the base, a new gym with an Olympic-size swimming pool and large parking garages. The installation will also be starting $17 million worth of energy reduction projects. MCAS New River is looking to gain about 1,000 service members and will likely also gain a reserve MV-22 Osprey squadron.
Hewlett thanked the local government, businesses and residents and was grateful to the community for their support.
"Onslow County, the city of Jacksonville, in particular, is very military friendly,” said Hewlett. “We have made great strides together to ensure continued development of the local area. We are focused on working together with community leaders, businesses and residents to ensure mutual respect and support. We recognize our actions at our installations have a serious impact on the local community and we thank you for your patience and your forbearance as we continue to train."
Other speakers at the event included the county manager, the chief executive officer of Onslow Memorial Hospital, the superintendant of Onslow County schools and the president of Coastal Carolina Community College.
While the speakers spoke of problems they could potentially face, they also spoke of solutions and remained optimistic and committed to the city, leaving behind little doubt that, as Mayor Phillips said during the breakfast, the community can weather the challenges ahead.