Concerns over the viability and longevity of Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East have been on the minds of residents and area leaders for some time with talk of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission and possible sequestration.


Concerns over the viability and longevity of Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East have been on the minds of residents and area leaders for some time with talk of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission and possible sequestration.



But the clouds of doom and gloom parted last week enough for a little positive light to shine through when a local leader attending a Washington, D.C., symposium stood up to voice her concerns for Cherry Point in front of James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps.



“He said Cherry Point doesn’t have anything to worry about,” said Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce.



Duncan attended the 2012 Business and Economic Development Summit Sept. 10 to 11. About 200 business leaders attended the event, hosted by the state’s congressional delegation.



Duncan said Amos informed her that Cherry Point’s AV-8B Harrier squadrons, scheduled to be deactivated starting in 2019, would be extended to meet with the planned arrival of the first F-35B Joint Strike Fighter squadrons in as early as 2021 or 2022.



Capt. Richard Ulsh, Headquarters Marine Corps spokesman at Quantico, Va., confirmed Amos’ remarks.



“The good news for the Cherry Point and Havelock is that you’ll have those aircraft around for some time,” he said.



Ulsh said the recent purchase of old Harriers from England would provide parts to help maintain the Harrier fleet.



Ulsh also pointed out that when the new F-35s completely replace the Harriers as well as the EA-6B Prowlers by 2029, the base would see an increase of six aircraft over the current number of 88 aircraft.



“So looking towards the future there’s other good things for the folks and the businesses in that area to look forward to,” Ulsh said.



Ulsh did confirm information from earlier this year that Cherry Point would get seven squadrons of F-35s, not the eight that the Navy initially designated for the base in 2010. He also confirmed planned deactivation of the base’s four Prowler squadrons by 2019.



But Duncan said Amos’ remarks were reassuring.



“I felt he was very genuine. I didn’t feel like he was saying something just to make me feel better,” she said. “I really felt like what he was saying was from the heart and that he believed in the mission at Cherry Point.



“Those sunsets had been extended so that we would be able to continue our mission here at Cherry Point until the F-35s got here. And he actually brought up FRC without me bringing it up and said that FRC was doing a great job and said that they don’t have to worry and that they would be repairing F-35s sooner than later.”



Ulsh said residents in Havelock shouldn’t be worried about closure of Cherry Point from a possible BRAC either.



“We don’t see that as an issue at all,” Ulsh said.



Still, North Carolina is expected to lose about 6,000 of its 54,000 Marines in a planned drawdown of the Corps.



Jimmy Sanders, president of Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group as well as Havelock Mayor, was pleased but pragmatic.



“Washington politics unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to look at it, they rule the day and it would not be the first time that politics has significantly changed the plans of the military,” he said.



Sanders said Cherry Point and FRC East are the economic engine that drives the region.



“We cannot sit there and be complacent because someone said we’ve got nothing to worry about. We can’t do that. We’re not going to do that,” Sanders said. “It is good news. We can’t sit back and assume that that will be the final outcome. I hope it is. To some extent I believe it is, but the risk is such that I’m not willing to take the risk, so we will continue to do everything that we can to make sure that Cherry Point and FRC remain or increase their military value to the United States, and as long as we do those things, then I think we are in pretty good shape. But we can’t sit back, because other military communities are not sitting back.”



Sanders said ACT would continue to support the base.



“I’m not trying to throw any cold water on it but that still will not change the fact that we are going to continue to work every day to protect Cherry Point and to protect FRC and try to enhance their missions,” he said.