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General Lehnert Relinquishes Command

Audio

Aired 9/30/09

The command of Marine Corps Installations West changed hands yesterday. For the last four years, Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert has been in charge of support services at seven Marine Corps bases on the west coast, including Camp Pendleton, Miramar, and Twentynine Palms. He spoke about the current initiatives to improve quality of life for Marines and their families.

The command of Marine Corps Installations West changed hands yesterday. For the last four years, Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert has been in charge of support services at seven Marine Corps bases on the west coast, including Camp Pendleton, Miramar, and Twentynine Palms. He spoke about the current initiatives to improve quality of life for Marines and their families.

Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert said the United States was tasked to build the Guantanamo Bay Prison for detainees in the war on terror.
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Above: Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert said the United States was tasked to build the Guantanamo Bay Prison for detainees in the war on terror.

ST JOHN: We’ve heard a lot about the money that’s been spent on the infrastructure here -- millions, billions of dollars to upgrade barracks and offices. That’s money the Pentagon invested that it could have spent on something else. So why is that so important to the Marine Corps?

LEHNERT: What this military construction represents is an investment after decades of neglect and investment in other areas. I think that finally, after a long war -- the period that we’ve been in conflict now is twice what it was in World War II -- there’s a real recognition that we absolutely have to treat our Marines and our families as long-term investments. And in order to do that, we’ve finally done the right thing.

LEHNERT: I’m a military brat. When I was born, my father lived in a 16-foot trailer at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with his young wife. He was a decorated veteran of two wars, World War II and Korea. And eight months after I was born, he was out of the Marine Corps because he didn’t want his wife and kid to be living in a 16-foot trailer. I’m really pleased to be part of the opportunity to change that, and to finally give our Marines, our sailors, our family members the kind of quality of life that they deserve.

ST JOHN: Are you ever concerned about the fact that the military does provide now some pretty good benefits for married Marines, and that is actually now an incentive for some to get married. But that incentive disappears when they are discharged and the Veterans Administration doesn’t provide any of those benefits for spouses. Are you concerned about what that might do to military kids?

LEHNERT: I was concerned about what I felt was a disparity between the quality of life of our family members and our single marines. And for that reason, we are really focusing on the construction of the bachelors' enlisted quarters -- we refer to them as BEQs.

I don’t want the quality of the house to be the incentive to get married. There are a lot of good reasons to get married. That’s not one of them. And so as a consequence, we have really invested in the BEQs so the single Marines have a decent place to live as well.

ST JOHN: Is the base going to be a little emptier in the near future as a result of changed policy in Afghanistan?

LEHNERT: Well, you know, I don’t know yet what the President is going to decide in terms of how many Marines are going to be deployed. That’s a cyclical thing. We’ve had points throughout this long war where the base really did look pretty empty and most of us were over in the fight. That’s going to move in an ebb and a flow. The families, though, are always here and they have to be one of our foremost priorities. I’m passionate about ensuring that if the Marine is deployed -- either the husband or the wife -- that the families are taken care of.

ST JOHN: At the moment there is a disparity between what the incentives are to have a family while in the active duty, versus when you are discharged.

LEHNERT: Well Alison, let me take a stab at that in a different way. Most of our Marines will leave the Corps after a single tour. I really push hard for them to take advantage of their G.I. Bills and go back to school. That Post 9/11 G.I. Bill is also transferable to your spouse. And I think this is an extraordinary benefit that they carry with them into their civilian life; I’m really bullish about the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. I think it’s going to fundamentally change this country, and change it for the better.

HOST: That’s Major General Michael Lehnert who headed up Marine Corp Installations West for the past four years. He spoke with KPBS reporter Alison St John.

The new Commander, Major General Anthony Jackson, comes to Camp Pendleton after serving nearly two years as the Director of Operations and Logistics, United States Africa Command.

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