New 'Parris Island Protection Act' Would Prohibit Marines from Closing East Coast Boot Camp

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Recruits drill evaluation on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Recruits prepare and practice for their initial drill evaluation on Peatross Parade Deck Sept. 14, 2018 on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Dana Beesley)

A new bill aims to halt any moves by the Marine Corps to end its longtime training mission in Parris Island, South Carolina.

Reps. Joe Wilson and Ralph Norman, Republican lawmakers from South Carolina, on Friday introduced the Parris Island Protection Act. The measure, if passed, would “prohibit the use of federal funds to close or plan the closure of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island,” the pair said in a statement.

The legislation, they added, is in direct response to Military.com’s exclusive Sept. 24 report that the Marine Corps was considering a plan that could close its two existing boot camp locations at Parris Island and San Diego to create a new base where men and women would train together.

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Marine officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new legislation.

Leaders have stressed that no decision to shutter either base has been made. But they have acknowledged they’re looking at all options to meet a congressional mandate to make enlisted entry-level training coed in coming years.

Wilson and Norman called the news of Parris Island’s possible closure “shocking and disappointing.” They said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, also of South Carolina, intends to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

“This legislation is simple: it ensures that Parris Island will not be closed by barring the use of federal funds to close or realign the base,” Wilson, a retired Army colonel, said. “South Carolina has welcomed recruits from around the country for over a century, and to close Parris Island would not only be detrimental to South Carolina, but also to the Marine Corps.”

Parris Island “is of significant importance” to South Carolina, the country and the military, Norman added.

“As long as I serve in Congress,” he said, “I will fight to preserve Parris Island and make sure it remains the preeminent training facility for the U.S. Marine Corps.”

Graham, who said closing Parris Island “ain’t gonna happen” in response to Military.com’s reporting last month, called the possibility “a horrible idea.”

In Friday’s release about the new legislation, the retired Air Force Reserve colonel said, “we can change the basic training rules to have men and women train in the same platoon like other services.”

“I believe that over time this change will be good for the Marine Corps,” Graham added.

The Marine Corps has resisted that move. So far it has trained coed companies, but platoons remain segregated by gender.

Local leaders in South Carolina met last week to discuss the Marine Corps’ plans for the base. The service's East Coast training base, they said, brings in $700 million a year and employs about 6,000 people.

Thousands of people flock there every year to attend boot camp graduation ceremonies. Those events have been curbed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We always have concerns about anything that remotely threatens the happiness and prosperity of our people," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, said during a press conference after the meeting. "We're familiar with what the commandant of the Marine Corps said, and I assure you that we will do all we can to see not only that our bases and capacities are not reduced, but are expanded."

Col. Riccoh Player, commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion at Parris Island, said during the meeting that it’d be premature to limit the Marine Corps to one course of action as it examines how to make its training gender-integrated.

Commandant Gen. David Berger said last week in an interview with Defense One that nothing about the way the Marine Corps' recruit depots are currently organized support a move to fully coed training. Both recruit depots are aging, a spokesman for Berger added, which is why the service is studying the option of opening a new boot camp location rather than spending money on construction projects at older bases.

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

Related: Marines Weigh Closing Parris Island and San Diego to Open New Coed Boot Camp

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