Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River welcomed economic leaders for a day of growth and education, March 14. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Jacksonville-Onslow program visited the installations as part of a monthly leadership class.

The goal of the program is to teach participants about opportunities in and the needs of the community, which in turn will foster involvement in community projects for the betterment of the area.

“The people here are already leaders. We want them to become community leaders,” said Janet Bowen, director of operations and government affairs for Jacksonville’s Chamber of Commerce. “Visiting the base is always one of their favorite days.”

The attendees initially visited MCAS New River where they had a chance to see a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion aircraft as well as see plans in development for the installation’s new aircraft. They also received a briefing from Col. Russell C. Burton, commanding officer of MCAS New River, and had a chance to tour points of interest on the facility like the aircraft control tower.

“This is how we help build a stronger community,” Bowen said.

On MCB Camp Lejeune, the event was broken into two parts — a seminar and information session followed by a tour of the base.

In the information session, participants heard from Brig. Gen. Benjamin T. Watson, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations East – Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, who spoke about the relationship between the base and the Onslow County community.

“Most bases live adjacent to the community,” said Watson. “It’s different here. We’re actively involved and a big part of the [Onslow County] area. … When there are friction points, and there will be, the way to fix those problems and friction is through relationships.”

One attendee asked Watson about the biggest challenge in talking to city officials and council members. Watson did not see many issues involved with that particular area.

“I wish I could tell you I had something, but really, we find a way to work issues out. … I’m sure people would like us to open up [Highway] 172 without stopping people, but well, ” Watson said, trailing off with a shrug to a roomful of laughter.

“This is a good place to be,” Watson concluded.

Tim McCurry, community plans liaison with MCB Camp Lejeune and a former participant in the class, spoke to the group as well, discussing subjects such as range maintenance, airspace management and future programs that are planned for the base.

McCurry also touched on the effects of Hurricane Florence and the impact on Camp Lejeune’s infrastructure as well as the surrounding area.

“Up to about 2018, we were actually doing up to $1 million a day in destruction, dollars that were going out to the businesses and construction companies that went on to complete [projects],” McCurry said. “The well dried up; (then) Hurricane Florence hits. The toll off that piece there is looking like about $3.4 billion… we’re looking at a growth (in the) force 2.0.”

McCurry was referencing the 2011 Grow the Force Initiative that saw an influx of 14,000 Marines to Eastern North Carolina, leading to massive economic development.

Following the information session, participants were taken to MCB Camp Lejeune’s Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT) where they were informed of the facility’s function as well as given a guided tour. Ernest Hoopii, a retired Marine sergeant major, acted as guide, providing background on the facility as well.

Attendee Jeb Brown of Brown Properties of North Carolina inquired if Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations applied to a facility like the IIT. Hoopii assured those participating in the program that, although there were differences in the civilian and military sector, people still took safety seriously.

“Of course you can’t have children working, which makes the simulations a little difficult. When you’re over there and you’re in a village with no children, things are about to go down,” Hoopii said. “At the end of the day, safety is No. 1. We want everyone coming out of the trainer with all the fingers and toes they went in with.”

For more information about the Leadership Jacksonville-Onslow program visit www.jacksonvilleonline.org/programs-

events/leadership/ For those interested in engaging in next year’s event, applications are due by June.