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‘The military cares about San Diego’: A look at the world’s largest military concentration

Camp Pendleton, home to the Marine Expeditionary Force, gives the first clue that San Diego is a military town.
USS MIDWAY
Posted at 4:26 PM, Jun 06, 2024

If you look up at the sky in America’s Finest City, there’s a good chance you’ll spot a piece of military aircraft flying.

In San Diego, it’s hard to miss the massive impact the military has on the community. Camp Pendleton, home to the Marine Expeditionary Force, gives the first clue that San Diego is a military town.

The base is one of the first things drivers see when entering the county. Hundreds of thousands of Marines have trained at the base since World War II.

“Our military presence here is extremely significant,” said Jim Kidrick, a retired Navy fighter pilot and commander, who is now CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

Kidrick sat down with Scripps News to talk about the impact the military has had on San Diego for this week’s edition of Path to the White House. In this episode, we focus on the importance of America’s military communities and look at the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on voters.

Kidrick said with 110,000 active-duty service members based in San Diego and key defense assets here, it’s made San Diego “the mothership, we might say.” The San Diego Military Advisory Council says San Diego, home port of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is the largest military concentration in the world.

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In 2022, the council estimated the military had a $56.4 billion dollar impact on the local economy. The council says some 225,000 veterans call the coastal California city home, and over 354,000 people work in defense-related jobs.

Kidrick said San Diego is geographically positioned to allow the United States to respond to any conflict quickly. Aircraft carriers, airplanes and personnel can all be dispatched quickly, he said.

“You can bet if we ever went to an all-out war, San Diego’s one of the targets. There's no doubt about that because it's so valuable,” he said.

Some of the military’s key assets include Naval Base San Diego, which has over 50 ships and sits on over 300 scenic acres on the San Diego Bay.

Inland, MCAS Miramar serves as the West Coast headquarters of Marine aviation.

The base is best known for its annual air show that gives spectators the rare opportunity to see military aircraft fly at death-defying speeds. In Coronado, the country’s most elite train to become Navy SEALs. Few pass the grueling and sometimes deadly "Hell Week" that tests physical endurance and mental toughness.

Nearby at Naval Base Point Loma, some of the most capable attack submarines in the world lurk. The base served as a backdrop for President Joe Biden, who announced a nuclear submarine deal with Australia and the U.K. in 2023.

“We have all of the major commands right here,” said Kidrick.

This story was originally published by Austin Grabish at Scripps News San Diego.