Brig. Gen. P. Drax Williams, the new commander of Marine Corps air stations in the West, says there may be no immediate or long-term solution to the noise problems created by fighter jets and helicopters from El Toro and other bases.
In his first session with the media since being named commanding general of El Toro and other stations in California and Arizona, Williams, 51, said the military could develop quiet airplanes, but it would result in added weight and a slower, less maneuverable aircraft.
Noise complaints from the surrounding community have increased since the fighters and helicopters returned from Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, military officials conceded.
"I don't see a long-term solution," Williams said. "You have to make a choice. . . . Either the airplanes and the training have priority or the community does."
Williams said no matter where an airfield is built, sooner or later people are going to want to live next to it.
"Then, you are going to have encroachment, and then you are going to have complaints," he said.
The closing of the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station in 1997, Williams said, will help to ease the noise situation somewhat. "We are not overjoyed that Tustin is closing, but we realize it is about time it did. It has to close. We got to the point where we don't feel comfortable flying under the kind of restrictions we have to."
Tustin is one of dozens of bases throughout the country that is scheduled for closure by the Defense Department. The 3,500 Marines who work there and the 125 heavy-lift and troop-carrying helicopters will be sent to Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, a sprawling desert base east of San Bernardino.
In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, Williams, former legislative aide to the commandant of the Marine Corps and the head of public affairs in Washington, said he would not speculate on what had prompted a scandal that hit El Toro Marine Corps Air Station earlier this year, resulting in an investigation into the improper use of government aircraft for golf outings and other personal use.
"I can't comment, really, on what went on here, because I wasn't here. I was 3,000 miles away," he said.
"I have spent the last two weeks going from department to department, being briefed by all the staff and by every conceivable outfit on this base. I am satisfied that this ship is steaming," he said.
The inquiry by the Marine inspector general's office apparently led to the suicide of the base operations officer, Col. James E. Sabow, and the firing by Williams' predecessor, Brig. Gen. Wayne T. Adams, of Adams' chief of staff, Col. Joseph Underwood.
The use of military C-12 aircraft for personal trips finally led to an investigation of Adams and his reassignment to duties in Quantico, Va. The inspector general's office has completed its probe and has handed it over to Adams' new boss, Lt. Gen. Ernest T. Cook Jr., commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
Brig. Gen. Harold W. Blot, then assistant commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who has been named wing commander, was put in charge of the base when Adams stepped down. Williams was officially put in charge of the base Friday.
"I believe in doing things in a time-tested way," Williams said. "I believe in following the rules and regulations and policy that have been written for good reason. That's what going to happen."