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Defense Marine Corps commandant rejects the idea of merging MCRD and Camp Pendleton

San Diego’s Marine Corps Recruit Depot is not Camp Pendleton and the two bases should remain separate, the Marines’ top officer told a San Diego crowd last week.

Recruit training is not operations, said Gen. James L. Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps. “Those are two different missions, and they should be done in different locations,” he told an audience of several hundred at a San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast Aug. 14.

Jones’ comments came in response to a suggestion the Marines leave their Midway district depot during the next round of military base closures, thus freeing more space for Lindbergh Field.

Jones described Camp Pendleton as a crucial point for deploying and recovering Marines from overseas, and for conducting training other than boot camp.

When you start talking about a base that combines boot camp and those operations, Jones said, “You’re talking about an enormous piece of real estate.”

The Pentagon is expected to go through another round of base closures in the next few years.

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Escondido, reportedly told Bush administration officials he would not oppose the depot’s move to Camp Pendleton. Part of Jones’ visit last week was to meet with Cunningham.

A Cunningham spokeswoman said last week that the move was “just an idea” and that the congressman wants to do what is best for San Diego and best for the military.

The Marines have 17 bases nationally, Jones said.

“They’re separate for a reason,” he said.

Asked later about consolidating San Diego’s Marine Corps Recruit Depot with its East Coast counterpart in Parris Island, S.C., Jones said the size of both installations prevents that from happening.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, introduced Jones to the chamber crowd, saying she would “work hard and fight hard to defend” the military’s presence in San Diego.

During his comments at the chamber event, and to the press afterward, the general also:

– Said the Marines “need to address the paucity of housing for families.” Jones said some local Marines have to drive 70 miles to work from military housing. He said he sees Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as “a great location” for developing military housing.

– Said the United States must reverse its decline in naval shipbuilding.

– Reiterated his belief in the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Accidents have grounded the craft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but flies like an airplane.

“Tilt-rotor technology is not rocket science,” he said. “It is mature technology.” He added that software fixes required on the Osprey are “doable.”

Jones predicted that lighter and heavier variations of tilt-rotor aircraft will evolve from the Osprey. Such aircraft will “transform sea-based logistics,” he said.

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