PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – The possible closure of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island has become a hot button political issue for South Carolina congressional candidates.
“This is an extreme position by the Democratic party and Congressman Joe Cunningham has led on this issue,” said Nancy Mace, the Republican nominee for District 1.
During a news conference at the gates of Parris Island Tuesday, Mace placed blame for what could happen to the historic Lowcountry military base squarely on the shoulders of her opponent, Cunningham.
The questions all started with an interview on Defense One with the Corps top General David Berger, who was asked about the integration of female Marines 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. The South Carolina base is the only one right now training female Marine recruits.
Neither base is set up to have gender-integrated training. But Parris Island is under a congressional mandate through the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, to do just that in the next five years. The San Diego base in the next 8 years.
The goal of the Marine Corps is to eventually have no female-only battalions. It’s something Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, is not in favor of.
“Military experts have even said and stated that it is a great opportunity for women when they can train as a single unit, as a single platoon, as a single-gender,” said Mace.
She blames Democrats in the House, where the bill originated, and specifically Cunningham, for not protecting the Lowcountry’s most valuable resource.
“We are so gender neutral now that we may have to close this base within the next five years,” said Mace. “I believe that those decisions on how we train by gender or not should actually be made by commanders that are actually doing it and not members of Congress and far-left California (Democrats) who are trying to destroy our military.”
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 impacts.
Cunningham responded to his challenger in a statement Tuesday.
“Parris Island is the crown jewel of South Carolina’s many critical military installations and there is nothing I won’t do to ensure that it remains open.”
The congressman added: “Last year, I was proud to vote alongside the South Carolina delegation, including Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, to integrate Marine Corps training and we are all committed to providing the necessary funding to implement that training within the five-year timeline. State Representative Nancy Mace’s allegations that either Senator or myself would ever jeopardize funding to Parris Island is ludicrous, and a desperate attempt to make cheap headlines and garner attention for her failing campaign.”
Cunningham continued on to tout his own record in Congress.
“I’m proud to have successfully secured more than $37 million in new funding ($37.2
million to modernize an outdated live-fire training range on Parris Island) for Parris Island and passed an amendment to protect Parris Island from closure (through H.R. 3055, the bipartisan Military Construction Appropriations Act). No one voted to close Parris Island and Representative Mace’s shameful attempt to use it as partisan political fodder cheapens its significance to South Carolina and demonstrates how unfit she is to be a member of Congress.”
Mace believes the fate of Parris Island will be decided in the next few months because of the money needed to do it.
So far, no one from the Marines or any military branch has made a firm decision on what may happen next to either of the recruit training centers.
Most Lowcountry leaders believe any decision to close would still be a 20-30 year process before completion.