The Marine Corps has announced plans to reduce troop strength at Camp Pendleton by about 10%, beginning late this year.
About 3,600 Marines and 1,400 dependent families will be shifted from the sprawling base north of Oceanside to the massive desert training center at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Maj. Tom Mitchell, a base spokesman, said the move is being undertaken for several reasons, among them to “enhance the combat readiness of the Corps” by allowing an infantry and artillery unit at Camp Pendleton to link up with its command, which is already stationed at Twentynine Palms.
“This is not a commonplace move,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “It’s a big move.”
The troops are part of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which focuses on potential trouble spots in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, according to Capt. Kevin Murphy, a base spokesman at Twentynine Palms.
“Our desert environment at Twentynine Palms lends itself to that kind of training, but we could be committed anywhere worldwide,” Murphy said, noting that other elements of the brigade are elsewhere in California, Arizona and Hawaii.
Indeed, some city officials in Oceanside have long been predicting that the Marine Corps would increasingly shift its training emphasis from the coast to the desert as the Middle East has continued to smolder.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Oceanside Councilwoman Melba Bishop, the wife of a former Marine. “Eventually, I think we’ll be seeing more of it happening. The shift will be to the desert and Camp Pendleton will only remain as an amphibious training base.”
Aside from the training benefits, the move is also expected to open up badly needed barracks and family housing at Camp Pendleton, allowing Marines and their families to shift from older units to newer ones. The base has historically been troubled by a housing shortage, with many Marines forced to vie for homes off base in the high-priced North County market.
Although details are still being worked out, tentative plans call for the move to begin in December and conclude by July, 1991.
It remained unclear what sort of economic effect the reduction in troop strength could pose for North County. In particular, many merchants in Oceanside have benefited from economic ties to the military, reaping the dollars spent by Marine Corps personnel on everything from housing to food and other sundry items.
Mitchell said he had no figures on what percentage of the Marines lived on base, nor how big a payroll the more than 3,000 troops represented.
Bishop, however, said she doubted the loss of the troops would drain too many dollars from local merchants, arguing that the fallout would be “negligible.”
“It’ll be interesting to see if it does have an impact or not,” Bishop said. “I don’t think that size of a reduction will cause problems. Probably a great number of those Marines were young guys who didn’t live in Oceanside anyway.”
If anything, the move should prove to be an economic bonanza in Twentynine Palms, according to Murphy. Although the base east of San Bernardino already has under construction a fair share of the housing needed to accommodate the Marines and families, a sizable percentage will have to seek homes off base, he said.
“The local citizens are pleased by the move,” Murphy said. “The economic impact is great out there, so it’s good news for them.”
The shift is expected to reduce Camp Pendleton’s troop population from the 36,000 now to fewer than 33,000. But, at Twentynine Palms, the military population should jump from 7,900 to nearly 11,500 when the move is completed, Murphy said.
Murphy said construction began months ago at Twentynine Palms to provide on-base housing and other accommodations for several new units, but those plans were scrapped and the troops were never assigned to the base. Now, however, the housing and other facilities will prove useful for the Marines and families coming from Camp Pendleton, he said.