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New defense bill secures $146 million for improvements at Camp Pendleton

The main gate at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base on June 16, 2006 in Oceanside, California. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images/TNS)

With $146 million in military construction planned at Camp Pendleton, local lawmakers and military officials say Marines and sailors will be better served in their mission to protect the country, and surrounding communities could see a boost in local construction jobs.

Construction funding was secured through this year’s National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Donald Trump on Friday, Dec. 20. The act specifies the annual budget and expenditures for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The defense bill was passed by the House Dec. 11 and by the Senate Dec. 17.

“It’s extremely important,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano. “Camp Pendleton is the heart and soul of our district. I’m grateful to serve the men and women of our Marine Corps. It’s incumbent on us that the military has the resources to be ready for the mission. Infrastructure projects there are years overdue.”

Capital improvements planned at the sprawling seaside base — located between San Clemente and Oceanside — will help modernize the base for years to come.

The $146 million appropriations package includes, in part, $71.7 million for a new mess hall and warehouse, $17.7 million for an ambulatory care center and dental clinic replacement, and $38.87 million for a 1st Marine Expeditionary Force consolidated information center

“Camp Pendleton provides a multitude of key services and access to some of the world’s best training ranges,” said Capt. David Mancilla, a base spokesman. “These services and facilities directly contribute to the overall mission readiness of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force as well as other major subordinate commands. This funding is critical for the continued support of the operating forces that call Camp Pendleton home, as well as increasing their overall lethality so they can be ready to respond to crisis at a moment’s notice.”

Camp Pendleton covers 125,000 acres, including 17 1/2 miles of shoreline – perfect for amphibious assault training. As a bonus, the Navy’s San Clemente Island – 55 miles west of Orange County – is one of the military’s most valuable assets as the only ship-to-shore live-fire training range in the nation.

The west region — which also includes Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma — is home to 85% of the Defense Department airspace for training maneuvers and 67% of the Marine Corps’ live-fire training ranges.

With the Defense Department’s pivot to Pacific-Asian geopolitics, Camp Pendleton’s location offers opportunities no other Marine base can.

A recent example was the Steel Knight 2020 exercise held in early- to mid-December. The 15-day amphibious, live-fire and aviation training exercise allowed Marines to train with the Navy on a large scale, with Marines and sailors attacking the base’s beaches and pushing well beyond the foothills. The exercise, which included 13,000 Marines and sailors, enhances the division’s ability to fight adversaries such as China and Russia.

The new information and communication center will support the 1st MEF Information Group. The facility will provide office areas for multiple units, secure work spaces, and more sophisticated communications capabilities. Groundbreaking is expected in 2020, and construction is estimated to continue through 2023.

The building is part of the effort to modernize the Marine Corps. It also fits into a new planning guide issued by the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, by which the Marine Expeditionary Forces remain the Corps’ principal warfighting organizations.

“This is a big win,” Levin said.

He added that as part of the bill, military housing on base will have better oversight and accountability.

“We want to ensure that men, women and children can live comfortably on base,” said Levin, who said during his monthly visits to the base he has been pleased by how the private housing is handled.

There also will be 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers after a birth, adoption or fostering of a child, and a plan to remove the “widow’s tax,” the tax assessed to surviving spouses.

Also as part of the defense act, Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego will accommodate women recruits by 2027. Women who join the Marine Corps now must attend boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.

The act also established the Space Force, which Trump called a national security priority during a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar more than a year ago. The Space Force will be an armed force within the Department of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps exists inside the Department of the Navy. It will have its own commander, the Chief of Space Operations, who will become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Trump named Air Force Gen. John W. Raymond, the commander of U.S. Space Command, to that position.

The service branch will be the smallest of the five military branches, starting with about 200 people and a first-year budget of $40 million. The military’s largest branch is the Army, with about 480,000 active-duty soldiers and a budget of about $181 billion. The Pentagon spends about $14 billion a year on space operations, most of which is in the Air Force budget.

Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, spoke about the need for the Space Force earlier this month during the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley. He cautioned that countries including Russia and China are developing capabilities to interfere in space.

“We’ve got to defend what we have,” he said during a panel discussion involving the four joint chiefs. “If a war starts and extends into space, I don’t see a winner coming out — in that everybody loses. … The president is exactly right, we have to move forward with Space Force capabilities.”

Vandenberg Air Base in Santa Barbara County is among six bases being considered to house the Space Force.


© 2019 The Orange County Register