MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. --
Base leaders from Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River joined local government and community leaders of Jacksonville and Onslow County aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River to discuss the outlook of their installations going forward at the 18th Annual State of the Community Breakfast Feb. 12.
Speakers included Jeff Hudson, Onslow County manager, Jacksonville Mayor Sammy Phillips, Dr. Kathy Spencer, superintendent of Onslow County Schools, Dr. Ed Piper, chief executive officer for the Onslow Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Ronald K. Lingle, president of Coastal Carolina Community College. Lt. Col. Stephen Pierson, executive officer of MCAS New River, and Col. Darrell Thacker, deputy commander for Marine Corps Installations East – Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, represented their commands at the breakfast.
Pierson highlighted some of the key functions of the air station and its important role in the Marine Corps.
“We are an integral part of United States Marine Corps East Coast operations in the civilian community of eastern North Carolina,” Pierson said. “The mission continues as we support our tenants deploying to Afghanistan and afloat as aviation combat elements in the Marine Expeditionary Units.”
MCAS New River is marking its 70th anniversary with some new and improved changes, to include more construction, which is clearly evident aboard the air station. Pierson also explained the flight squadrons now employ the UH-1Y helicopter and are soon adding the AH-1Z Super Cobra helicopter to their arsenal as well.
“These new helicopters add lift, range, speed, durability, weaponry and critical tactical flexibility to the amphibious task force and the Marine Air Ground Task Force,” he said.
By 2014, Pierson said MCAS New River is expected to receive two squadrons of Marines – Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 - from MCAS Cherry Point. This large influx of manpower to the community, along with Marines returning from deployments should help boost the county’s economic growth.
Pierson said MCAS New River’s economic contributions to the community and local businesses total approximately $500 million per year. This figure includes salaries, procurement, construction and health care.
“We are committed to working together with community leaders, businesses and residents to ensure our relationship is one of mutual respect and support,” he added.
After Pierson spoke, Thacker addressed the audience of approximately 300 with a brief snapshot of Camp Lejeune.
“Since working as the deputy commander, I came to realize there is always something going on aboard the base,” said Thacker. “It’s a large base, which means we have to expect the unexpected.”
Thacker explained the challenges for the installation going forward.
“It’s no mystery the Marine Corps, like all services, is watching the (budget) discussions very carefully,” he said. “As we go through this, Camp Lejeune is still fulfilling its missions and supporting the operating forces.”
Thacker warned as the budget cuts take place, MCIEAST, including Camp Lejeune, will take a financial hit for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“The question is, ‘what is the Marine Corps going to look like?’” he added. “(We) will remain an expeditionary force, we will respond to crises as directed, and we will get back to our amphibious roots.”
The Marine Corps will continue to be the response force the nation needs as it always has, he explained.
Thacker also reassured those in attendance the base isn’t going anywhere, addressing unfounded speculation Camp Lejeune might be subjected to Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure measures in the future. The base is too crucial to the Marine Corps’ mission to go anywhere he said, adding Marine Special Operations Command is also staying put.
“Camp Lejeune is (staying),” said Thacker. “But as we transition from 202,000 Marines down to 182,000 Marines, there will be impacts on the base.”
After discussing budget cuts, Thacker shifted focus to Camp Lejeune’s current progress.
“We’re continuing with our (base housing plan),” Thacker said. “We’re getting rid of some of our old housing and building new ones. In the end, we should come up from about 4,600 houses to 5,200.”
The command is going forward with the commandant’s Bachelor Enlisted Quarters Plan to put two Marines in every room. Thacker explained they will not snatch Marines living out in town and put them back into BEQs, but single Marines with orders to Camp Lejeune will have to apply to live off-base in the future and each case will be looked at separately.
“As we build the BEQs to the new standard, we’re going to make sure the rooms are occupied,” he said.
Thacker also addressed the traffic flow aboard the base, saying Brewster Boulevard will soon be extended to four lanes to help hospital traffic in the mornings and afternoons. He said improving traffic going on and off base is a constant challenge.
Lastly, he enlightened the audience about some of the photovoltaic energy farms popping up around installation.
“We’re putting PV farms in to use as renewable energy,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, there will be about five megawatts of PV energy helping the base.”
Pierson and Thacker provided the Jacksonville and Onslow community with a brief overview of the installations’ current and upcoming events, and much is expected from the bases looking forward into 2013.