MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
It can be difficult, sometimes, for members of the local community to fully appreciate Cherry Point's role in preparing today's Marines for the defense of their nation. The most that people typically see is the sleekly muscled jets that roar off into the distance from the air station's multiple runways to parts unknown.
But on April 8, mayors, county commissioners, county managers and planning directors from cities and counties surrounding Cherry Point joined Col. Chris Pappas III, commanding officer of the air station, on a half-day aerial tour of BT-11, Outlying Field Atlantic and Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, taking in a view of the Crystal Coast aboard a CH-53E Super Stallion.
The tour was a rare opportunity for members of the Civilian Military Community Council and Joint Land Use Study Committee, many of whom had never strapped-in aboard a military helicopter. It was also an opportunity to help the air station leadership introduce the tour guests to the day-to-day operations of the Marines and Sailors who work at Cherry Point and surrounding training facilities, according to Pappas.
“Our mission is to support the war fighter and mission sustainment,” said Pappas. “The mission is somewhat different at each of the three sites visited. We do this through policy, advocacy, support and guidance.”
During the tour, the civic leaders learned about the strategic importance of Cherry Point and its outlying training facilities at BT-11, OLF Atlantic and ALF Bogue, for both the air station and the entire II Marine Expeditionary Force. Population growth and urban expansion near the air station and its facilities makes it imperative for air station leaders to proactively engage the community through events like the CMCC/JLUS tour, according to Pappas.
“Military installations face various encroachment pressures that can impact the mission,” said Pappas. “It is vital for Cherry Point to reach out and engage the public in these situations. The other key element of outreach aims to improve public support for the military and to increase public awareness about the military’s training requirements and environmental stewardship.”
According to Carteret County Commissioner Bill Smith, local communities rely on Cherry Point as an economic mainstay. The roughly 33,000 Marines, Sailors and civilian employees who work at Cherry Point contribute greatly to the local economy and a cohesive, hand-in-hand partnership between Cherry Point and surrounding communities benefits all.
“Cherry Point is a big part of our life in Craven, Pamlico and Carteret Counties, and anything we can do to help (Cherry Point) is what we’re here for,” said Smith, a former Marine and retired Cherry Point employee. “It’s always good for (Cherry Point) and the civilians out here to see what each other are doing and what we need to make it better for all of us.”