MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- -- The 74th Secretary of the Navy, The Honorable Dr. Donald Winter, made his first trip to the Lowcountry June 24 and 25 to meet with Beaufort community leaders to discuss encroachment issues (especially in regards to the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort), to reassure the community that the Air Station wouldn’t be shut down anytime soon by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and to get a first-hand glimpse of recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
“This is a critical time for the Marine Corps as we increase our end strength up to 202,000 and the recruit pipeline is a very crucial aspect of being able to accomplish that critical objective, and being able to get a chance to see that with my own eyes and see what we’re doing in terms of training the next generation of Marines has been absolutely critical,” Secretary Winter said of visiting 3rd Recruit Training Battalion recruits during their rifle range and pugil stick training. “And, then coming over here to (Marine Corps Air Station) Beaufort and being able to see the Air Station and understand how we’re working with the local community to be able to preserve and develop this critical aspect for the Marine Corps of the future is equally important.”
During his visit, Secretary Winter emphasized the importance of keeping a strong relationship with the community around the Air Station and Recruit Depot.
“We need to live and work within this community,” the secretary said. “It’s a critical partnership that is important to both the Marines and the local community; we have a significant impact on the community, both economically and operationally and the community can have a significant impact on us in terms of quality of life.”
One of the main purposes of Secretary Winter’s visit was to speak to community leaders about the issue of encroachment of the local community onto the Air Station.
Since 2004, county and federal governments have purchased 184 acres of land around the Air Station to create a “buffer” between Fightertown and the local community and officials are looking to buy even more development rights, explained Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton. The buffer is necessary to limit development in Accident Potential Zones and Noise Zones where aircraft noise could potentially reach unsafe levels.
Newton said the military bases pump an estimated $1.5 billion into the local economy each year, therefore it’s imperative that we continue to do what we can to keep the Air Station operational and relevant.
"The time to work encroachment issues is early," Secretary Winter said. "I think right now this community has that ability … and if we work it right, we can ensure (that) this is a facility that will serve the needs not only for the Marine Corps of today, but (also for) the Marine Corps of the future.”
During his visit, the Secretary of the Navy, along with the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, presented Gunnery Sgt. Adan Morones, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Air Station’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, with the Bronze Star Medal with the Combat Distinguishing Device for his actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom in support of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. For more on Morones’ heroic actions, please see next week’s issue of the Jet Stream.