In the News

Mark Walker - More than $130 million in new military acquisition and construction money will pour into San Diego area military bases under the defense spending bill approved by the House of Representatives last week.

The money comes on top of regular base maintenance and operation funding and would be augmented by unspecified millions more if the two-year budget deal that rolls back Pentagon “sequester” cuts.

All eyes turn to the Senate this week, which still has to act on the budget and defense bills, the latter which includes a provision inserted by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, that makes physical performance standards the same for men and women as the Pentagon moves to open up combat jobs to female troops.

The former Marine who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan believes the standards must be the same for troops regardless of gender to both meet the needs of each specialty and to attract and retain those most qualified for any particular assignment.

“It takes some of the political pressure off the services in having women serve in combat specialties,” Hunter said Friday “The military can now simply say the standards are the same for everyone.”

As part of its integration of women into combat jobs, the Pentagon is developing job-specific standards. Hunter argues that gender-specific standards for combat specialties in order to accommodate female troops could degrade combat effectiveness.

Pentagon officials have said they never had any intention of creating special fitness standards for women.

The new construction and acquisition money slated to come into the region’s Marine Corps and Navy bases would pay for a variety of projects, including an ammunition supply staging ground at Camp Pendleton. The expansive North County base has undergone a more than $4 billion massive makeover in the last several years, transforming it from a World War II-era complex into a modern-day with new barracks, state-of-the-art training, medical and administrative facilities and a new hospital.

Key defense-bill projects for San Diego

• $34 million-plus for steam plant work at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

• $30 million-plus for new housing and Navy training facilities.

• $18 million: energy conservation project Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

• $13.1 million: ammunition supply staging ground at Camp Pendleton.

• $9 million for facilities at the SEAL base in Coronado.

• $6 million for a new fuel pipeline at Miramar.

In addition to the base upgrades, some new amphibious ships will be based in San Diego.

The two bills overwhelmingly approved by the House on Thursday combine to restore the flow of federal dollars that the region has come to rely on.

“It gives the defense community the ability to plan things out for the next couple of years,” said Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Peters, D-San Diego and also a member of the Armed Services panel, said the bill provides stability for thousands of local military families and dozens of area companies that do business with the Department of Defense every day.

Peters also praised sweeping changes to the military justice system to combat sexual assault, such as removing a commander’s ability to reduce a guilty finding, establishing minimum sentences for sex-crime convictions and removing statute of limitations on some sex offenses.

“This bill builds on recent reforms in the military’s ongoing battle against sexual assault, improves military readiness, reduces military construction projects abroad, and honors the commitment to responsibly leave Afghanistan by the end of next year,” he said.

Items of local interest that were once in the defense bill but were taken out during final negotiations on the 1,105-page bill addressed an ongoing fight to see the Medal of Honor awarded to Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta of San Diego.

He died in house-to-house fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2004 after covering an insurgent grenade with his body to shield fellow Marines from the blast, according to those with him that day.

Hunter has led a year-long fight to have a Navy Cross posthumously awarded to Peralta upgraded to the nation’s highest military honor.

He had inserted a provision into the bill that would have required the Secretary of the Navy to turn over all the evidence it has accumulated in the Peralta matter, but didn’t object to that being removed after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel agreed to personally review the case.

Hunter’s effort to preserve the cross at Mount Soledad, which faces a legal challenge from the ACLU as an unconstitutional endorsement of one religion over another, also was struck from the final bill.

The changes to how the military administers sex crime cases are in response to widespread incidents and reports of sexual assault in all the service branches.

Many of the new provisions stem from a huge spike in reported sexual assault in the military and controversial cases in which commanders have dismissed guilty findings in sex cases, according to military law expert Gary Solis.

“The military has brought this on itself,” the former Camp Pendleton Marine attorney and judge who now teaches military law at Georgetown University and UC Davis said. “These are sweeping changes brought about by some unwise decisions.”

In another area, the bill expressly forbids the Pentagon from initiating another round of base closures similar to that done in 2005 that ultimately led to additional ship home porting in San Diego.