Hundreds rally for Beaufort Joint Strike Fighter squadrons


From across Beaufort County, hundreds of people jammed Tuesday’s public meeting to learn more about the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and the five squadrons recommended by the Navy for Marine Corps Air Station-Beaufort.

Some came for the F-35 cockpit simulator, the closest most people ever will get to climbing inside the supersonic, stealth Joint Strike Fighter. Others came to the Holiday Inn for the free pizza and Cokes, courtesy of the Beaufort County Military Enhancement Committee. Some came to ask questions, and many came to share their support for the future of the Air Station.

“This Joint Strike Fighter is essential to the military security of this country and to the economic security of Beaufort County,” said Carlotta Ungaro, president of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a $1 billion event for Beaufort County, so we take it very seriously.”

Earlier Tuesday, about 25 children ages 5-12 from Hobbit Hill’s summer camp took a field trip to tour the cockpit simulator. The full-size simulator was open throughout the day to varied groups and then was available during the three-hour public meeting drop-in.

The Navy’s preliminary recommendation is to base three operational squadrons and two training squadrons at MCAS-Beaufort. The Chamber of Commerce supports this recommendation and believes it will have the greatest economic impact on the area.  When public comment closes July 12, the Navy will review data and then is scheduled to announce a final decision in December on where to base the East Coast Joint Strike Fighters.

The decision to base five F-35B squadrons in Beaufort will lead to an additional $300 million investment in infrastructure at the Beaufort Air Station, according to Defense Department estimates, and thousands of civilian construction jobs.

The new squadrons, expected to be the last manned aircraft for the Marine Corps, will enhance the base’s standing through future base closure reviews, said Gen. Garry Parks, chairman of the Military Enhancement Committee.

“In addition to the Air Station’s current $615 million annual economic impact on Beaufort County, bringing the new F-35B jets here will add $300-plus million to base construction. That’s a lot of jobs for several years,” he said. “We also will work together as a community to draw new spin-off industries to our area to support the new planes.”

The arrival of the F35-B Joint Strike Fighter will help with recruiting new industry to our region while bolstering existing businesses that focus on technology, aeronautics and defense, said Kim Statler, executive director of the Lowcountry Economic Network & Alliance. The jets are expected to arrive in 2014, replacing the F/A-18 Hornets.

Sidebar

Miss the meeting but want to help?

Comments about the future of Marine Corps Air Station-Beaufort and the F-35B are accepted through July 12, 2010, by visiting www.usmcjsfeast.com/Comments. Or, you can write and mail your support by July 12 to: USMC F-35B East Coast Basing EIS, P.O. Box 56488, Jacksonville, FL 32241-6488.

For more information about the Joint Strike Fighter and MCAS, visit www.f35beaufort.com.

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