Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Hurricane damage forces US Marines to reduce training

AP, WASHINGTON

A number of unexpected costs, including major hurricane damage repairs and unplanned deployments to the US-Mexico border, are forcing the US Marine Corps to cancel training exercises and will degrade combat readiness, the top Marine general said.

General Robert Neller said in a memo this week to US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer that the Marines have pulled out of three military exercises and cut equipment maintenance.

Marine participation in more than a dozen other exercises would also be canceled or reduced, and other cuts will be needed if the service does not get budget help, Neller said.

The problem is “imposing unacceptable risk” to Marine Corps combat readiness, he said.

“Marines rely on the hard, realistic training provided by these events to develop the individual and collective skills necessary to prepare for high-end combat,” Neller said in the memo sent to Spencer. “Although some effects can be mitigated, the experience lost by these units at a critical time in their preparation cannot be recouped.”

In the memo, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, Neller asks Spencer for help getting funding freed up for priorities.

Neller listed nine unplanned factors that led to the problem, but the Marine Corps said that, by far, the most significant issue forcing the training cuts is the widespread hurricane damage.

About US$3.5 billion in damages was done to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and surrounding facilities by hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Neller said that earlier hopes that the US Congress might approve requests to move larger amounts of money around in the budget now appear unlikely.

He called the situation in North Carolina critical, saying that hurricane season begins in June, and Marines and sailors are working in “compromised structures” that must be repaired quickly.

The US Department of Defense is seeking more than US$2 billion in funding for hurricane damage in the budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

However, Neller said the Marine Corps needs more than US$600 million this fiscal year to do those repairs and address other shortfalls.

The other shortfalls include the ripple effect of the ongoing debate over US President Donald Trump’s plan improve security on the southern border.

There are about 500 Marines deployed to the border mission, where US service members are helping in wall construction, transportation, surveillance and other tasks requested by the US Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, the Pentagon is shifting funding from various department budget accounts to pay for construction costs.

Other cost issues include an unbudgeted civilian pay raise, unfunded increase in Marine deployment to Australia and unplanned cuts in funding for the Marine Reserve, Neller said.

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