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Closing Marine Boot Camp In San Diego Is One Option Being Studied By USMC

Marines parade at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego, April 29,2016.

Credit: Defense of Department

Above: Marines parade at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego, April 29,2016.

Facing a Congressional mandate to integrate men and women into its basic training, the Marines are considering all their options, including replacing San Diego and Parris Island, South Carolina with a single boot camp.

The Marines are required to add women to Marine Corp Recruitment Depot San Diego within eight years and end segregated training for new recruits at Parris Island in five years. This week, the Marines commissioned a $2 million study by the University of Pittsburgh to look at how to fully integrate women, part of a process which could lead to creating a new, centralized boot camp.

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Mark Balmert, executive director of the San Diego Military Advisory Council, says losing the boot camp would cost the city.

“So, 400 recruits a week come through our location here, about 16,000 to 17,000 a year,” Balmert said. “And our studies have shown more than 60,000 of their family members make the trip to San Diego to be part of their recruit graduation.”

Reported by Steve Walsh

The Military Advisory Council annually compiles the value of the military to San Diego’s economy.

In September, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger told Military.com that all options are open as they move toward the congressional deadline to integrate women at all levels of basic training.

In a four-page report released in July, the Marines have already told the Pentagon they cannot add women to San Diego without building new facilities.

Officials in South Carolina, from Sen. Lindsey Graham to Gov. Henry McMasters, have come out publicly saying they will fight to keep the boot camp at Parris Island. In San Diego, MCRD sits on potentially valuable land next to the airport, which gives the city more options.

“I think our goal here is to keep boot camp in San Diego County,” Balmert said.

Marine boot camp has been in San Diego for roughly 100 years. The city grew up around it. Keeping MCRD where it’s located is a priority, but if the Marines decide to start fresh, leaders here are still likely to lobby to keep a combined boot camp in San Diego County, with the most logical choice being Camp Pendleton, Balmert said.

Still, Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, whose district covers MCRD, says he also wants the West Coast boot camp to remain where it is.

“Yes, there would be an investment in that, but not nearly the investment it would entail, just by instinct, if you had to build an entirely new facility, acquiring land and building an entirely new building,” Peters said. “I don’t think cost is a reason for moving training out of San Diego.”

The issue isn’t just integrating women into boot camp. In 2016, The Union of Concerned Scientists called Parris Island one of the most endangered bases in the U.S. military, due to climate change. By mid-century, the coastal base could be underwater 30% of the year.

This is not the first time San Diego has faced losing a boot camp. In 1997, the Navy closed the base at what is now Liberty Station, under the Base Realignment Closure process. For more than two decades, the Navy has operated a single boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois.

This week, the Marines awarded will have until sometime next year study the current process and lay out the options for the Marine Corps.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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