Marine Corps commandant says Afghanistan is top priority

Gen. James Amos, right, 35th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, gives a group of Marines an overview of his plans for the Corps on Monday afternoon at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Gen. James Amos, right, 35th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, gives a group of Marines an overview of his plans for the Corps on Monday afternoon at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazett

It's no coincidence the nation's top Marine made Beaufort his first destination outside Washington, D.C., since being appointed the corps' 35th commandant last month.

"This is home for us," Gen. James F. Amos said Monday at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, where he spent about six years of his military career. "We decided we were going to ... come to Beaufort and look the Marines in the eye and talk about where we're headed, what we're doing and where we're going, why, and just kind of touch home plate again."

Amos visited the station with his wife and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, who also addressed the Marines gathered Monday, thanking them for "continuing the great legacy of our corps" and encouraging them to take care of each other.

Amos was stationed at MCAS Beaufort as the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 from 1991-93 and as the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 31 from 1996-98. He spoke to dozens of Marines gathered outside the air station's new Afterburners recreation facility Monday and honored 10 Marines for outstanding service.

He also planned to visit Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, he said.

The four-star general addressed his top four priorities, the war in Afghanistan ranking number one.

"It's more important to me than anything else," Amos said.

The Marine Corps will remain relevant and "respond to today's crisis, today, with today's force," Amos said.

Other priorities include rebalancing the corps and designing it for a post-Afghanistan environment. With about 202,000 Marines today, Amos said he expects that number to shrink when the corps come out of Afghanistan.

He also wants to improve Marine education and training and "keep faith" with -- or take care of -- active duty Marines, veterans and their families.

Greater diversity throughout the corps falls under that goal, Amos said.

Right now recruiting is "the best it's every been" in terms of quality, but Amos said he wants the face of the Marine corps to better reflect the American population.

"We've not done a good job of recruiting diversity in the Marine Corps, and I'm going to change that," Amos said. "And by the way, I'm going to change it by not lowering standards. I'm going to change it by not having quotas. ... I don't know how we're going to do it, but I've got smart Marines who are going to help me figure it out."

Amos said it's important he speak with Marines face-to-face about the future.

"There will be decisions that will be made over the next year that in some cases will be tough," Amos said. "If I can talk to them ahead of time, they have a sense for why. My experience is if you can just help a Marine understand why something, whether it be a deployment or be some type of combat operation, they accept it a lot easier."

Cpl. Trevor Hinkley, a welder based at MCAS Beaufort, said it is "great to hear from the man on top about what exactly is going on."

"I like that Afghanistan is his top priority because we have Marines out there on the ground," Hinkley said. "It's nice to know that he definitely plans to take care of those Marines."

Lance Cpl. Angela Zyla called Amos' speech motivational and said it was an "honor and very nice to hear that you're doing your job well from the commandant."

Asked after his speech about the Department of Defense's pending decision on how to divide 13 new Joint Strike Fighter squadrons between MCAS Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., Amos said there has been "no indication whatsoever" that MCAS Beaufort is in jeopardy.

A Navy report released in May recommended basing three active-duty squadrons and two pilot training squadrons at MCAS Beaufort.

"If I was going to bet, I would say this air station is in great stead," Amos said. "This air station continues to be a gem."