MCB CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
“A mile of roadway takes you a mile, a mile of runway takes you all over the world.”
The Albert J. Ellis (OAJ) airport, a small but mighty facility located just outside of Jacksonville, North Carolina in Richlands, is nearing completion of a runway rehabilitation project to restore its surface and original load-bearing capacity. The project cost was supplemented by a $2 million grant under the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program (DCIP).
As one of the first sights a Marine experiences after earning their title in bootcamp and making their way to Camp Geiger for additional training, OAJ proudly supports service members, families and other military-connected passengers making their way to Eastern North Carolina.
“In September 2023, the 10 millionth passenger will travel through [Albert J. Ellis], marking a significant milestone for an airport that serves a community of our size,” stated Chris White, airport director for Albert J. Ellis. “Many of these commercial airline passengers are connected to the Marine Corps, whether as employees and contractors or family and friends.”
The DCIP is a competitive program for states and communities to undertake infrastructure enhancements to support military value, installation resiliency and military family quality of life.
“The DCIP grant promotes local infrastructure improvements that support traveling service members and families as well as members of the local community and beyond,” said Col. Adolfo Garcia, commander, Marine Corps Installations East-Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. “The valued partnership between the Marine Corps and the local community made this grant to improve the runway at OAJ a logical choice to support.”
OAJ welcomes its service members with many amenities, including a United Service Organization lounge and changing rooms that help ensure Marines look sharp when checking into their new units. It also offers extra charging ports, complimentary Wi-Fi, and more importantly an airfield that supports military aircraft transporting service members wherever they need to go.
Since opening the facility in 1971, OAJ has had its fair share of rehabilitation ensuring the airport meets the current and future needs of the region while safely continuing to serve its community.
Planning for this rehabilitation of OAJ’s runway pavement began about three years ago. The project has been in progress for seven months and will come to a close soon. The work is typically accomplished at night in order to keep the airport operational during the daytime. Ongoing efforts to keep the pavement serviceable has resulted in an extension of approximately 20 years of service life. Milling, overlaying and grooving nearly 28,000 tons of asphalt on the 7,100 foot runway, connectors and other associated pavements has come at a cost of about $11 million dollars.
“In a typical year, over 25 percent of the flight operations at OAJ are either military training or transport flights,” stated White.
Flights in and out of OAJ support military personnel in movements to and from deployments and training, and also provide charter flights for unit sized groups. Marines from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River and MCAS Cherry Point, in Cherry Point, North Carolina also frequent the airport.
Government and External Affairs Director for Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River Joe Ramirez explained how the command was able to help OAJ get the project subsidized.
“The DoD annually publishes a Notice of Funding Opportunity which are grants to be used in the public arena that might benefit the military,” he said. “When we alerted the community to this financial aid, the airport spoke up and we were able to assist them with drafting the narrative outlining the need and ensuring it met all the right criteria – namely that it was a shovel ready project and that it directly helped the military with rotary aircraft operations and its air transportation.”
When asked about future projects to further enhance the airport’s capabilities, White said a state-funded construction project to extend the runway an additional 900 feet is scheduled to begin in 2024 and will take two years to complete.
“The extension will allow for longer range flights to come and go from Albert J. Ellis airport. We have larger aircraft that are somewhat weight restricted, especially during the summer, and this runway will help with that,” stated White.