Top general: Marines's cost for border deployment is $6.2M

The Marine Corps’s cost to deploy to the southern border has so far been about $6.2 million, the service’s top general said Tuesday.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller made waves last month when two memos leaked in which he warned the border deployment was one of several “unplanned/unbudgeted” events posing an “unacceptable risk” to the service’s combat readiness.


But during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Neller downplayed the importance of the border deployment to the Marine Corps’s financial issues, stressing it was just one of eight areas contributing to a shortfall.

“I’ve personally checked the readiness of every unit down there, and with only one exception there was no impact to their actual readiness,” Neller told senators. “In fact a couple of units improved their readiness. So to say that going to the border was degrading our readiness is not an accurate statement.”

There are now roughly 6,000 military personnel at the border, including 2,100 from the National Guard and 3,900 active-duty forces. The Pentagon's last official cost estimate for the active-duty troops was $132 million by the end of January.

Neller’s memos listed the border deployment alongside funding challenges from recovery after bases were hit in Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence, among others.

Funding transfers needed for the deployment has been a constraint on the Marines’s ability to transfer money for other issues, the memos added.

The total shortfall from costs of the issues listed in the memo is about $300 million, Neller said Tuesday. That means the $6.2 million for the deployment is about 2 percent of the overall issue, he added.

Neller said he wrote the memos to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanProgressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper House Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis MORE in order to get help reprogramming money.

“What I was looking for was for some assistance in trying to get money to reprogram because we have to pay our bills,” he said.

The memos also said the Marines will not be able to participate in planned training exercises in Indonesia, Scotland and Mongolia, and will reduce participation in joint Australian and South Korean exercises.

On Tuesday, Neller said no exercises were canceled because of the border deployment, but that fewer Marines were sent to one exercise.

Some units were sent to the border instead of doing scheduled training exercises, he added. But he argued that in some cases the deployment itself provided training.

“Some of the units have gone down there, and they’ve done tasks that are more in line with their core mission, like engineering units or [military police] units,” Neller said. “Aviation units that were assigned to that early on have actually improved their readiness because they were able to fly certain profiles.”

But at least one unit is not doing work that is part of its core mission, he added.

“For 60 days, they can handle that,” Neller said of that unit. “But it will affect their readiness.”