As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Carolinas, Marine Corps Camp Lejeune in North Carolina is not issuing a mandatory evacuation order and that has some employees of the base and their family members upset.
While all other military bases and civilian institutions in the area of the hurricane are requiring employees and residents to evacuate, Brig. Gen. Julian Alford, Camp Lejeune’s commander, is making evacuation voluntary for active duty Marines.
And some in the area reported to Federal News Radio that Marines are being required to stay on the base as Florence hits because the decision is at command discretion.
Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine Corps base on the east coast. Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina are also withholding mandatory evacuations.
Onslow County, which surrounds Camp Lejeune, issued a mandatory evacuation on Tuesday morning and will not open shelters.
A former Marine who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, but asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, told Federal News Radio the 1st Battalion, Second Marine Regiment allowed married Marines to leave the base, but single Marines are required to stay in the barracks during the storm.
Another former Marine, whose husband works at Camp Lejeune and did not want her name used for fear it may jeopardize her husband’s job, said she was able to flee the area with her children in the family’s second car, but her husband was required to stay.
“A lot of Marines were held back for cleanup crew, or for emergency services,” she told Federal News Radio. “Many families on Camp Lejeune only have one vehicle. I have a lot of friends and neighbors who are remaining behind for the sole purpose that their husband was told that he had to stay, per his command.”
In a message on the base’s Facebook page, Alford told Marines and their families Camp Lejeune would not mandatorily evacuate on Tuesday night.
“Many evacuation routes are vulnerable to flooding, and hotels and fuel supplies are likely already overwhelmed making it very dangerous to travel from and then back to Camp Lejeune when the storm is over,” Alford wrote. “The majority of Camp Lejeune is NOT in a flood prone area. We have very reliable historical data on what areas would be affected by storm surges and flooding and have already directed the relocation of those personnel and residents away from those vulnerable locations.”
The post was inundated with comments criticizing and applauding Alford’s choice.
The decision to not mandatorily evacuate makes it so Marines and their families will not be reimbursed for their stays outside of the base and will not receive per diem while they take cover from the storm.
“If there was a mandatory evacuation, the Marine Corps would have to pay for our food, gas, and our lodging. The Marine Corps doesn’t want to pay for tens of thousands Marines to evacuate the base, so he made it voluntary. This wasn’t about our well-being, this was about money,” the former Marine whose husband stayed behind said.
Alford directly confronted those who contended his decision was financially based on Facebook.
“Federal funding was authorized prior to Tuesday to support IF a decision was made to evacuate the base. Let me be clear, the decision NOT to mandate evacuation was made after my assessment of the situation. As mentioned in my earlier statement, this base is well-prepared to face the oncoming storm,” Alford said. “The commands and personnel who remain are well-postured to react to situations and will be working together, like Marines always do in battle, to get through Hurricane Florence.”
However, the former Marine whose husband stayed behind thought differently.
“Everybody seems to think that because we’re Marines, we are indestructible. Camp Lejeune does not have some magical bubble over it where none of us can be harmed if a category four hurricane comes in,” she said. “For those with financial restrictions, it would have been covered so they wouldn’t have had to choose between finances and their lives. To me, a true leader would have made sure they were all safe out of harm’s way. This isn’t OK, our housing isn’t built for this weather.”
The former Marine had similar feelings.
“I’m concerned in general, we face enough danger,” he said. “This isn’t combat. You can’t shoot back at a category four hurricane.”
The former Marine said if federal funding was in place then it made no sense to not order an evacuation.
“What are we accomplishing from keeping guys there?” he said. “What are we gaining? … If the means are available, why not use them?”
In the meantime, Camp Lejeune will use a fitness center, elementary and middle school for shelters during the storm. The New River satellite base will also use three buildings as shelters. Alford asked those using the shelters to bring a three-day supply of water and food.
The mess halls will stay open until Thursday evening. Meals-Ready-to-Eat were distributed to active duty units and Marines are expected to eat those until the storm passes.
Camp Lejeune did not respond to requests for comment for this article.