Corps focuses on safety, gate security concerns at Parris Island

Traffic moves through the gates at the entrance to  Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island just before the start of the graduation ceremony Friday morning.
Traffic moves through the gates at the entrance to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island just before the start of the graduation ceremony Friday morning.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is more secure when every visiting vehicle is checked before entering the main gate, said Brig. Gen. Frederick Padilla, the base's commanding general.

But when thousands flock for recruit graduation ceremonies, they cannot be thoroughly inspected without causing major traffic jams in Port Royal, he said.

"When we are able to check all the vehicles, we find people that shouldn't be there, and some of the stuff we find is pretty amazing," Padilla said at a meeting Tuesday with the state's military base commanders, Gov. Mark Sanford and other government officials, held at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. "We have to accept risks every Thursday and Friday."

Padilla did not provide specifics about any objects found during vehicle inspections.He proposed an $8 million fix -- relocating the security gate to the other side of the causeway that connects the base to Port Royal. His request, however, was not included in the Marine Corps' budget this year.

Depot officials have not decided if they will resubmit the proposal next year, said Maj. William Pelletier, Parris Island spokesman.

"We are always looking for ways to more efficiently use resources, manpower and technology to take prudent security measures to safeguard our personnel aboard Parris Island, while limiting any impact to the Port Royal community," Pelletier said.

So efforts to balance security concerns and the free flow of traffic continues.

Family and friends of new Marines are allowed on base for visits on Thursdays and Fridays of graduation weeks. Typically, two to 20 relatives visit each recruit, according to the depot, where 40 graduation ceremonies are held each year. More than 120,000 people visit Parris Island every year, according to the Beaufort Regional Chamber of CommerceDepot officials have declined to provide details of existing security measures or what vehicle inspections would entail if the gate were moved.The depot implemented a new security policy last month that required all drivers -- including Marines and civilian employees with Defense Department windshield stickers -- to show their licenses, proof of insurance and vehicle registrations at the gate.

Depot officials said the new security measure satisfies a December order from the Pentagon requiring military bases nationwide to perform ID checks.

The same policy will be enforced today as thousands pour onto the base for Parris Island's annual Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display.

Regardless of whether the gate is relocated, Padilla said depot officials will find a way to protect the base while still making sure proud parents, friends and other family members are able to see their new Marines graduate basic training.

"We are always going to find ways to facilitate families being there," he said.