Lejeune Commander Fires Back at Critics After Declining to Evacuate Base

Brig. Gen. Julian Alford addresses a group at the 20th annual Retiree Appreciation Day at Marston Pavilion aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 30, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Pfc. Nicholas Lubchenko)
Brig. Gen. Julian Alford addresses a group at the 20th annual Retiree Appreciation Day at Marston Pavilion aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 30, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/Pfc. Nicholas Lubchenko)

The commander of a North Carolina Marine Corps base in Hurricane Florence's path is hitting back against complaints that he declined to evacuate personnel ahead of the storm to save the military money.

Brig. Gen. Julian Alford, Camp Lejeune's commanding general, issued a series of social media responses Tuesday after troops and their families objected to his decision against a mandatory evacuation. At least five other military bases -- from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina to Joint Base Langley Eustis in Virginia -- have begun evacuating personnel as Florence careens toward the East Coast.

Camp Lejeune and the Marines and sailors who will remain on duty are well-prepared to face the oncoming storm, Alford said, adding that money wasn't a factor when it came to deciding whether to evacuate the base.

"Federal funding was authorized prior to Tuesday to support IF a decision was made to evacuate the base," the general said on Facebook. "Let me be clear, the decision NOT to mandate evacuation was made after my assessment of the situation."

Alford's response followed a flurry of angry posts from military personnel and their families after it was announced Tuesday that some Lejeune troops would be allowed to take liberty through the weekend, but would not be under a mandatory evacuation order. That leaves those who choose to escape the storm's wrath paying for any travel, meals and lodging on their own.

Personnel at other bases are likely to see those expenses reimbursed if their commanders issued mandatory evacuation notices.

"Why is this not a mandatory evacuation yet?" a Marine field radio operator wrote on Facebook. "The leadership of [Lejeune] just keeps going downhill. This is why no one wants to re-enlist. We have 'leaders' who put money before personal safety."

"The fact that y'all haven't evacuated the entire base shows a blatant disregard for your Marines and their families," another commenter wrote.

Onslow County, which includes Camp Lejeune, ordered immediate mandatory evacuations on Tuesday. The area remains under hurricane and storm surge warnings.

Non-essential personnel at Camp Lejeune were released from duty Tuesday at 4 p.m. and granted special liberty status through the weekend. Anyone cleared by their command to leave base was given permission to relocate their families to a site within 500 miles of Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Travel to and from the area, both before and after the storm, could prove dangerous, Alford warned. Many evacuation routes are vulnerable to flooding, and hotels and fuel supplies are likely already overwhelmed, he added, "making it very dangerous to travel from and then back to Camp Lejeune."

"Camp Lejeune has endured countless destructive weather events over its 77-year history, and we will withstand the tough conditions ahead," Alford said.

Most of Camp Lejeune is not prone to floods, he said, adding that the base has hardened infrastructure, its own first responders, a naval medical center, emergency shelters and emergency supplies.

"And finally, we have Marines who will be ready to assist and take care of each other during this stressful time," Alford said. "... I give you my personal assurance we are going to take care of everyone on this base."

As of press time, Camp Lejeune was listed in Tropical Cyclone Condition II, which means destructive weather with sustained winds of 58 mph or greater are possible in the next 24 hours.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a clear message to state citizens Wednesday morning.

"Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in," he said. "If you are on the coast, there is still time to get out safely."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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