Story by Cpl Jonathan Sosner on 02/06/2019From the outside looking in, buildings on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune do not look a whole lot different than they did at this time last year. Upon closer inspection, however, there are billions of dollars of interior damage to facilities and still many uncertainties regarding who will foot the $3.6B bill after Hurricane Florence, according to Camp Lejeune's commanding general, BGen. Benjamin T. Watson.
This and many other topics were discussed by a panel of leaders in the Jacksonville community during the 24th annual State of the Community breakfast at the Landing All Ranks Club on Marine Corps Air Station New River, Feb. 1, 2019. Watson and Col. Russell C. Burton, Marine Corps Air Station New River commanding officer, were both on the panel as the Marine Corps' representatives.
"There were a number of traumatic events that happened in the community this year," said Watson. "Hurricane Florence was certainly the defining event of 2018 for our community."
Watson and Burton both took turns discussing issues facing the community, which in large part revolved around Hurricane Florence and its effect on the area. On the military installations, there were about 800 buildings that were damaged by the weather, approximately 3,000 personnel displaced, and over 4,000 base homes damaged, which are currently in the process of being repaired, said Watson.
"The strong and enduring relationship that the military and community here have formed over many years together, in good times and bad, is what enabled the partnership and mutual support that helped us to get through the storm and will continue to help us recover in the aftermath of the storm," Watson said. "That critical partnership will be particularly important to the recovery and future operations."
Much of the damage on the installation was made worse due aging infrastructure which was unable to withstand the storm, he said.
"The cost to repair the damages to Cherry Point, New River and Camp Lejeune is $3.6 billion. That's the cost of operating out of infrastructure that is 65-70 years old in some cases," Watson said. "There was very little damage to the buildings that were built over the last 10-15 years, but it was catastrophic to many of the older buildings."
One of the main fights the Marine Corps is facing in securing the funding to repair the installation is that from the outside, many of the facilities do not look overtly destroyed.
"When you drive by, the damage doesn't look as severe as it really is," Watson said. "What you see from the outside is a few shingles that flew off and a few tarps on roofs, but what you don't see is the 33 inches of rain that came down over the next three days that seeps in and destroys the buildings from the inside."
While Hurricane Florence certainly took center stage in this year's State of the Community, Watson and Burton took time to emphasize many of the accomplishments MCIEAST accomplished over the last year, such as the new level three trauma center at the Naval Medical Center, the first of its kind in the Department of Defense, as well as the partnership between the military and the community which allowed the area to recover as well as it did. Despite the damage, Watson says his installations remain mission capable and home to the nation's premier force in readiness.