BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Could the Lowcountry be losing one of its most valuable assets?
An interview with the Commandant of the Marines has put the future of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in doubt.
The questions all started with an interview on Defense One with General David Berger, who was asked about the integration of female Marines into the Corps at Parris Island.
“You have male barracks and then down the road, you have female barracks. Nothing the way we are organized right now lends itself to integrated recruit training,” explained Berger. “We have to get to a place on both coasts or at a third location or whatever we end up with that every recruit male and female, that there are male and female around.”
Right now Parris Island is one of two Marine Corps Recruit Depots, the other is in San Diego. It is the only one right now training female Marine recruits.
Neither base is set up to have gender-integrated training. Parris Island is under a congressional mandate to do just that in the next five years; the San Diego base in the next eight years.
The goal of the Marine Corps is to eventually have no female-only battalions.
The service says its “exploring the option” of opening a third training base in a new location for all recruits, male and female, then shutting down the other two bases, including Parris Island.
The base was first used by recruits in the 1890s and according to a 2017 study now brings 6,000 jobs and a $740 million impact to the state, the vast majority of that impact in Beaufort County.
In all, military establishments in the Lowcountry are responsible for 20,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in economic impact.
Beaufort County has established a Military Enhancement Committee, a public/private partnership to support the region’s military installations.
Ian Scott, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, calls Parris Island part of the “fabric of our community” and says that Beaufort is “proud to be a place where Marines are made.”
Scott says the area is taking this seriously and calls this a “reminder that we can’t take any of our military installations for granted.”
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling says he is concerned, but is not sounding the alarm yet.
“No panic,” said Keyserling. “Diligently watch, listen and realize that in all practicality its probably a 20-30 year project because you don’t just do something that fast.”
The good news, the defense department is already spending $30 million for improvements at the Base, with close to $70 million more still on the table.
Local leaders point to that to show any shutdown of the historic Lowcountry base is definitely not “imminent.”