Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island’s new commandant, took the microphone and immediately tried to liven up the crowd at Friday’s change of command ceremony.
“All right,” Renforth said after being introduced. “But first off I want to get it going a little bit — my God, this isn’t a funeral by the way, OK?” he joked, his voice booming in the confines of the depot’s All-Weather Training Facility.
“This is a change of command celebration,” he continued. “We’re all real excited.”
Renforth, a stocky, bald man who looks the part of a former member of the Marine Corps rugby team — which he is — pledged to bring “enthusiasm” to his work. He’ll lead the recruiting, recruit training and facilities management efforts at the Corps’ storied depot, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Renforth comes to the island after commanding Marine Corps Training Command in Quantico, Va.
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On Friday, he pledged that the depot, under his command, will “follow the rules” and “do things right.”
Renforth, who said his father graduated from recruit training on Parris Island in 1942, takes command from Brig. Gen. Terry V. Williams, who came to the island in June 2014.
In his farewell speech, Williams thanked his command staff, his wife and then Col. Paul D. Cucinotta.
“And I do want to mention Paul Cucinotta, who did a lot for the RTR,” Williams said, referring to the colonel’s leadership of the depot’s Recruit Training Regiment — which came to an end Monday when he was relieved of command.
The Marine Corps dismissed Cucinotta, according to Corps spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena, based on findings during an ongoing “command investigation” that was “initiated following the death of recruit (Raheel) Siddiqui.”
“And his service was noted,” Williams said, referring to Cucinotta toward the end of his speech. “You’re a professional and a real honorable man,” he continued, glancing Cucinotta’s way. “So thank you as well.”
Neither Williams nor Renforth were made available to the media. When asked whether the outgoing and incoming commanders are typically available for comment, depot spokesperson Capt. Greg Carroll said, “It’s at their discretion.”
In addition to Siddiqui’s death and Cucinotta’s dismissal, the final months of Williams’ command were marked by the relief of Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon — who formerly commanded Siddiqui’s training battalion — and a recruit’s separation from the Corps for the assaults of Pvt. Morgan Brown and a second recruit.
On Friday, Carroll reiterated that Kissoon’s dismissal was not related to Siddiqui’s death. He said the Inspector General of the Marine Corps investigation that resulted in the relief of command was different from the investigation that resulted in Cucinotta’ and Sgt. Maj. Nicholas A. Deabreu’s dismissals.
The past three months aside, Williams has also overseen some notable projects on the base.
The $9 million entrance gate, which added three new lanes to speed up the process of getting on base, opened in December 2015.
“He led an unprecedented record of 32 renovation and modernization projects in addition to three military construction projects with a combined construction value of more than $67 million” — which includes the cost of the gate — Carroll wrote in an email Friday afternoon.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, whose remarks were read by a proxy during the ceremony, praised Williams for increasing the depot’s profile on social media and for an energy-saving program.
Williams oversaw the making of more than 38,000 Marines and the depot’s centennial ceremony, Carroll said.
He was also Parris Island’s first black commander.
He’s bound for the Washington, D.C., area, where he’ll serve as assistant deputy commandant of plans for the Marine Corps’ Installations and Logistics division.
Renforth participated in Operation Desert Storm and deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
He first served in the U.S. Navy before attending and graduating from the Naval Academy and then commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
He and his wife have five children.