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Former Marine Corps officials ask for Mace's Parris Island claims to be 'toned down'

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Congressional candidate Nancy Mace stands outside Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. She is tying her opponent, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, to an amendment which some speculate could lead to the training base's closure. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

Five former Marine Corps officials asked Republican congressional candidate Nancy Mace to stop making claims about the future of the branch's training base on Parris Island during her campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, a new letter shows. 

The request was sent by the retired military officials to the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Military Enhancement Committee on Tuesday and was later shared publicly by Cunningham's campaign.

The letter asks Mace to stop saying that Parris Island was put on the chopping block by the commandant of the Marine Corps. 

The signees are former commanding general of Parris Island retired Brig. Gen. Steve Cheney, retired Col. Warren Parker, retired Col. Roxanne W. Cheney, retired Col. Landon K. Thorne, and retired Capt. James J. Wegmann.

"A candidate running for Congress to represent Beaufort County and the surrounding area, however, has recently made outlandish and factually inaccurate claims about the future of Parris Island," the letter read. "We believe it is in the best interests of Parris Island for the rhetoric to be toned down, and for a truthful conversation be held with the public."

Parris Island's future has been a major talking point in South Carolina’s 1st District race. In advertisements as well as debates, Mace said the historic boot camp was put in danger by Cunningham after he supported a defense-spending bill that required the base to meet a gender-integrated training mandate in five years. 

The commandant of the Marine Corps said last month he would consider closing the boot camp if it couldn’t meet the requirement and perhaps start somewhere else. 

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Notably, every member of South Carolina’s delegation in Washington, excluding Rep. Tom Rice, signed on to the same 2020 defense spending bill. It did not specifically say the training base would be closed if the boot camp didn't meet the mandate. 

Members of South Carolina's delegation in Washington D.C. proposed the "Save Parris Island Protection Act" earlier this month, which would prohibit federal dollars from being used to close the base. Cunningham signed on to the bill which was introduced by U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson and Ralph Norman, two South Carolina Republicans.

Mara Mellstrom, a spokeswoman for Mace, defended their attacks on Cunningham following the commandant's comments and said if the position were inaccurate "why is Democrat Joe Cunningham himself joining a Republican bill to save Parris Island?"

The Marine Corps officials' letter said the larger threat to Parris Island is climate change and dangerous weather events putting the infrastructure of the base at risk. They praised Cunningham's efforts in Congress to get the boot camp more funding to combat those issues. 

"Rising sea levels and harsher storm systems contribute to an almost-daily loss of real estate on Parris Island and require more frequent recruit evacuation that is both expensive and time-consuming," the letter reads. "This is something our Congressman, Joe Cunningham, has been working on since he's been in office. And we agree with him."

Additionally, Sen. Lindsey Graham seemingly contradicted Mace’s claims that Parris Island’s future was hanging in the balance. The senator told reporters last week the base “is not in jeopardy” and added “whatever cost it takes to accommodate that at Parris Island, we will spend the money.”

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

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