The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller told lawmakers Tuesday that the deployment of Marines to the U.S.-Mexico border has actually improved the readiness of some units.
The comments from the top Marine come after the Los Angeles Times detailed a memo from Neller to his boss, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, that the border deployments and other unresourced requirements were posing “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness.”
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday regarding the Navy budget request, Neller told lawmakers that no training exercises were canceled as a result of the border mission.
The top Marine said that one exercise had reduced personnel and added that a small number of Marines scheduled to go to training were instead sent to the border mission.
Overall, Neller characterized statements describing the border mission as posing a threat to Marine Corps readiness as “not accurate,” and said that some units increased their readiness.
Units that hail from job fields like engineering and military police carried out tasks “more in line with their core mission,” Neller said, responding to questions from senators.
“Aviation units that were assigned to that early on have improved their readiness, because they were able to fly certain profiles,” he added.
Neller did say one unit was not working in a core competency.
Spencer echoed those sentiments when pressed about the border mission.
“Five hundred men for a month at the southern border is $1.25 million. In my mind, is that affecting my readiness stress? No it’s not,” Spencer said.
The top Marine told lawmakers that the memo to his boss was meant to outline eight fiscal shortfalls, one of which was the cost of putting Marines at the border.
The Corps has a shortfall of about $300 million as a result of some unresourced and unplanned requirements, but the cost for the border mission amounted to less than 2 percent of that, according to Neller.
Spencer added that the biggest fiscal stressor on the Corps was the damages caused by hurricanes like Florence, which slammed the East Coast in September 2018.
“We have to pay our bills,” Neller told senators. “If we didn’t get additional money then we would have to look at other sources of money, which could potentially include other exercises.”
Neller recently tweeted that Congress was planning to reprogram $400 million for recovery and repair efforts in the wake of Hurricane Florence, which caused roughly $3.6 billion in damages to East Coast Marine installations.
“Regarding the reprogramming, approximately two-thirds of the $400 million will be used to repair roofs and make interior repairs to buildings,” Maj. Brian Block, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
“The remaining one-third will be applied to other facilities and infrastructure such as the railroad lines, flight line, fencing, training roads, and utility systems to mitigate disruptions to operational readiness,” Block added.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.