Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station
MCAS Beaufort hosts all active duty USMC F/A-18 air operations on the East Coast, assigned to MAG-31. The mission of the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is to provide support as an operational base for MAG-31, and the support units. The mission of the Marine Aircraft Group (MAG-31) is to conduct anti-air-warfare and offensive air support operations in support of Fleet Marine Forces from advanced bases, expeditionary airfields, or aircraft carriers and conduct such other air operations as may be directed. The population of the on-base "city" includes nearly 4,000 active-duty servicemembers and more than 700 civilian workers.
There are also two US Navy F/A-18 squadrons assigned to the installation. While community relations in this very traditional area are excellent, the demographics of the South Carolina coast are changing. As population density and especially the number of retired residents increases, the installation is subject to some encroachment pressures. Most MCAS Beaufort F/A-18 activities use offshore airspace, although the air to surface weapons mission of the F/A-18 does require range access. The warning airspace adjacent to MCAS Beaufort is equipped with a TACTS system. Beaufort aircraft use the Dare County Range in North Carolina, other ranges managed by North Carolina-based USMC units, and the coastal Georgia ranges (Ft. Stewart and Townsend) near Savannah. Local MOAs have not been used extensively; however, access issues cited in earlier reports appear to have been resolved or overcome by events.
The Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), Beaufort command provides a home for the MAG. The relationship between the two units might be loosely viewed as landlord/tenant, although it is considerably more complicated. MCAS also provides a home for several other detached squadrons that support the MAG. The idea is that MCAS "owns" and maintains the land, the buildings and most, if not all, of the permanent attachments.
MAG-31 is not held back by ownership problems. Units may fly away more quickly and freely, which they sometimes do, on very short notice. They do that often because of routine commitments and because they are a part of the Second Marine Aircraft Wing, the organization that provides the air power for the Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic. So, the MAG, or elements of it, can be called on for duty at any time and any place. Second Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters is located at MCAS, Cherry Point, N.C. MAG-31 routine commitments include two squadrons on unit deployment overseas and one to two squadrons aboard aircraft carriers most of the time.
Although MAG planes are often overseas, at sea or deployed to the Western desert ranges, there are many excellent training opportunities near home. The residents of Beaufort must live with the aircraft noise. Once a pilot is over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, it is only 40 miles to a watery training range about 80 miles by 40 miles which is linked electronically to the Tactical Aircrew Combat Training System (TACTS) at the air station. The electronics are located on towers with oil-drilling platforms for their bases. The towers are self-contained, have solar- and wind-powered generators and are built on helicopter pads. Data is fed from instrument packages on the planes undergoing training to the platforms, which are microwave-linked to TACTS. Navy and Air Force pilots at nearby bases use the range regularly. That's not a problem because the system is fairly universal in military aviation. The same electronics will work just as well out West or wherever there is a TACTS setup.
MCAS Beaufort is located four miles from downtown Beaufort, S.C. Managing more than 12,000 acres, the air station includes the Laurel Bay military family housing just outside the main gate and Townsend Bombing Range about 130 miles away in McIntosh County, Ga.
There are two runways at the air station in Beaufort. One is 12,000 feet long; the other is 8,000 feet. Another 8,000-foot runway could be added easily. In fact, there is room for expansion of all of the facilities.
MCAS Beaufort is an alternative Space Shuttle landing site for NASA.
The 1993 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommended closure of NAS Cecil Field and realignment of all of its aircraft and associated personnel to MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina; MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina; and NAS Oceana, Virginia. In 1995, the BRAC Commission revised its recommendations regarding realignment of NAS Cecil Field assets by redirecting all aircraft and associated personnel to "...other naval air stations.
The Department of the Navy, after carefully weighing the operational, environmental, and cost implications of relocating F/A-18 aircraft from NAS Cecil Field to other Naval and Marine Corps installations, decided to realign two F/A-18 fleet squadrons to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina, and nine F/A-18 fleet squadrons and the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) to Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia.
This part of the South Carolina low country is graced with Civil War-era mansions and ancient, sprawling oak trees, their limbs supporting long hanging columns of Spanish moss. A Hornet's nest at the edge of Beaufort may seem out of place in such a setting. The town appears as Old South as "Gone With the Wind." In fact, it has been the setting for several movies.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is located in the heart of the South Carolina Lowcountry and is among the United States military's most important and most historically colorful installations. Consisting of some 6,900 acres 70 miles southwest of Charleston, South Carolina on Highway 21, the installation is home to seven Marine Corps F/A- 18 squadrons. Two additional Navy F/A-18 squadrons joined the Fightertown community in March 2000, strengthening the installation's economic contribution to the local area.
The acreage occupied by the Air Station was formerly the site of several prominent Lowcountry plantations, including the Clarendon and Edgerly, Bull and Deveaux plantations. In 1779, during the Revolutionary War, British troops landed at what is now the Laurel Bay Housing area and battled American revolutionary troops at Gray's Hill. The Beaufort area was also a staging area for both Confederate and Union troops during the civil war and elaborate plantation homes still line Bay Street, overlooking the Beaufort River.
By June 15, 1943, the Civil Aeronautics Authority established Naval Air Station Beaufort as an auxiliary air station which supported advanced training of anti-submarine patrol squadrons which ensured the security of shipping along the Eastern seaboard. The Marines at the air station are new kids on the block, even though they've been there since 1956 when MAG-31 was moved from Marine Corps Air Station, Miami, at the time that historic old Southern base was closed.
Currently, the Fightertown family consists of more than 700 Marines and Sailors along with 600 civilian personnel who ensure approximately 3,400 personnel of Marine Air Group 31 and its component squadrons and tenant units are readily deployable. Fightertown's Hornet squadrons rotate overseas regularly, either for six month training deployments to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan; as elements of Marine air-ground task forces; or aboard Navy aircraft carriers. At any given time up to half the squadrons may be found at various points around the globe, and are routinely called into action when the Commander in Chief requires airborne strikes or support for ground forces. Most recently squadrons have seen combat in the skies over Serbia and Iraq.
On the home front, the installation has weathered installation closures in the post-cold War, and with the recognition of the growing role of air power in conflicts in the developing world, new construction on the installation has included a new Enlisted Club, a $17.4 million barracks construction project which has provided an additional 238 rooms, and another barracks construction project to provide an additional 211 rooms.
Government quarters vary in size and style. Units range from 2- bedroom duplexes to 4- bedroom, single family units. There are two housing areas, one located on MCAS and the other located in Laurel Bay. Waiting times vary depending on the time of year. Short-term rentals while awaiting government housing are not normally available. Renters in the area typically lease for six months to one year. The introduction of two Navy F/A-18 squadrons to the Fightertown family in April 2000 further congested housing availability.
Cost of community housing (off-base housing) is relatively high in the Beaufort area. This is particularly true for Junior enlisted families requiring two or more bedrooms, who face greater out-of-pocket expense. Beaufort is located in close proximity to valuable resort property, and plays host to three military facilities located in a sparsely populated, rural setting. The Housing Division makes available an Off-Base Vacancy Listing of mobile homes, houses, apartments, rooms and condominiums and is updated weekly. Monthly rentals vary from $175.00 to $1200.00.
Of the 214 officers quarters, 17 are earmarked for senior field grade officers, 32 for field grade and the remaining 165 for company grade. Enlisted families are allocated 1062 quarters: 439 for E6-E9, 531 for E4-E5 and 92 for E1-E3. Officers quarters dimensions are 1256 sq ft to 1866 sq ft, Enlisted are 1147 sq ft to 1263 sq ft. Family housing units include stove, refrigerator, garbage disposal, dishwashers and washer/dryer hookups. Mobile home parks are located in Laurel Bay and managed by the Housing Office. There are 120 single-wide spaces and 37 double-wide spaces. Information about off-base mobile home parks is available through the Housing Referral Office.
Recreational facilities on the air station include a fitness complex, a center from which gear, including boats, may be checked out or rented, some great fishing ponds and a fishing pier on Tidal Creek from which shrimp as well as a variety of fish may be caught. There are also boat ramps, running trails, stables, a bowling center, swimming pools, picnic areas, tennis, basketball and racquetball courts and other opportunities. Golfers have a driving range, but must travel to Parris Island about nine miles away to play that well-established 18-hole course.
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