San Diego Union Tribune

June 10, 2005

Comment about closing MCRD has S.D. lawmakers up in arms

By Otto Kreisher

San Diego County's congressional delegation yesterday made another case for keeping the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, reacting strongly to remarks by the chairman of the base closure commission that the boot camp might be added to the list of candidates for downsizing.

In a bipartisan response, the delegation members cited the historic depot's contribution to national defense. They also said the cost of reproducing its capabilities elsewhere would be unreasonable.

"(The depot) is one of the most cost-effective military operations in the United States. It's a very small piece of property, but very effectively turns out the finest fighting forces in the world," said Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

If the depot were closed, he said, lawmakers would have "to replicate hundreds of millions of dollars in construction . . . at another site. Taxpayers would ask why."

Once the Base Realignment and Closure Commission does more research, it will see the depot as a "valuable military asset to the Marine Corps, the military and the country," said Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, of the Armed Services Committee. Her district includes the recruit depot.

Davis and Hunter pledged to convey their message to the commission's chairman, Anthony Principi, who triggered the alarm with his statements during a Wednesday visit to two San Diego military facilities on the Pentagon's list for staff reductions.

Principi and the other commissioners are inspecting bases recommended for closure or downsizing by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Any revision to the Pentagon list must be supported by seven of the nine commissioners.

Principi said commissioners want to determine whether money could be saved by closing the depot and shifting recruit training to Camp Pendleton. Because of the depot's urban neighbors – Lindbergh field is next door – its weapons and field training are conducted at Camp Pendleton.

The recruit depot is "clearly one of the bases that will be considered" for closure, Principi told reporters after visiting the San Diego Naval Medical Center and Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.

Although the depot was eyed during previous rounds of military downsizing, it was not on the Pentagon's latest list, which was released May 13.

However, Principi said Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, had told the commission that he nominated the depot for closure before realizing that it would cost more to provide the same services elsewhere.

Moving the training from San Diego would "not only cost too much money, but more important, it could interfere with equally vital training at other Marine Corps bases," said Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe, a member of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said he's confident "that the commission will agree that San Diego remains the best location for Marine basic training."

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, could not be reached for comment.

The Navy and Air Force each have one recruit training facility, but the smaller Marine Corps has two boot camps – in San Diego and Parris Island, S.C.

Although the San Diego depot has been studied as a possible site for expansion of Lindbergh Field, Hunter and Davis said it would be of little help because the depot doesn't offer enough space to build a second runway. Many of its buildings are historic landmarks that can't be demolished.

The depot trains about 16,000 recruits a year. About 1,700 Marines and sailors and 900 civilians are assigned there.

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