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SC congressmen introduce bill to prevent possibility of Parris Island closure

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The United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island in Beaufort. Members of South Carolina's congressional delegation are taking steps to prevent the Marine Corps from closing the Parris Island training site because of co-ed training requirements. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Members of South Carolina's congressional delegation are taking steps to prevent the Marine Corps from closing the Parris Island training site because of co-ed training requirements.

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Lexington, the senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the Parris Island Protection Act, which prohibits federal funds from being used to close or plan the closure of the historic military installation near Beaufort.

Speculation about the base's future comes in the wake of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act passed last year. Included in the bill was an amendment that required the boot camp’s training to become co-ed in five years.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said in a military.com news story last month he is considering closing the branch’s two existing training locations — Parris Island and San Diego — if they can’t meet the requirement.

While Berger's plan is not set in stone and no official decisions have been made on the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, it didn't stop South Carolina's lawmakers, state officials and military leaders from scrambling for solutions.  

Wilson introduced his bill with U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican from Rock Hill.

Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham intends to introduce companion legislation as well.

“The recent report that the Marine Corps is considering closing Parris Island is shocking and disappointing," Wilson said in a statement. "The unique value of the base and its facilities cannot be replicated, which is why I am grateful to introduce this legislation, along with my friend, Congressman Ralph Norman, and several members of the South Carolina delegation."

The report about the potential closure has been used as political football in the state's competitive 1st District congressional race. GOP candidate Nancy Mace has gone on the offensive trying to blame the closure scare on Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham because he supported the amendment in the NDAA. 

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Parris Island is in Cunningham's district.

On Friday, Cunningham said he supports Wilson's bill and his spokeswoman said the congressman is the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the effort.

He was not mentioned in Wilson and Norman's press releases as being tied to the legislation and could not have his name immediately added to the bill, but plans to do so.

"I am proud to stand with my colleagues across the aisle and protect Parris Island by prohibiting federal funds from being used to close or realign the base," Cunningham said. 

Cunningham has gone on defense after Mace attacked him in both of their televised debates for supporting the NDAA.

Mace's criticism ignores the fact that every member of South Carolina’s delegation in Washington, excluding Rep. Tom Rice, signed on to the 2020 defense spending bill, which never enumerated that Parris Island would shutter. 

Mace praised Wilson and Norman for introducing the bill, but still took a swing at her opponent.

"Instead of giving the Marine Corps the resources they needed, congressman Cunningham and his party were more dedicated to playing politics with our military and put Parris Island on the chopping block," Mace said.

Cunningham told The Post and Courier on Thursday he had spoken with Berger and that he was assured that Parris Island wasn't going to be closed.

The Marine Corps commandant has not issued a follow-up statement or clarification after speaking with military.com

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

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