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Political Transcripts by Federal Document Clearing House
HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON THE POSTURE OF U.S. MILITARY FORCES IN THE SOUTHERN COMMAND
April 4, 2001
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE IKE SKELTON (D-MO), RANKING MEMBER, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE GENE TAYLOR (D-MS), U.S. DELEGATE ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD (D-GU)
STUMP: The meeting will please come to order.
Today, the committee meets to hear testimony regarding the posture of U.S. armed forces within the Southern Command area of responsibility.
Turning to the subject of today's hearing, our nation has many vital and enduring interests in the Southern Command. For example, nearly 40 percent of all U.S. trade is conducted within the hemisphere and the United States imports more oil from Latin America and the Caribbean than the entire Middle East.
At present, many countries in the hemisphere are struggling to combat transnational threats such as drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal immigration, arms trafficking and terrorism. These threats undermine the political and economic stability of many countries in the region and place at risk democratic institutions.
Clearly, the United States has an obligation to assist a neighbor in need, but how we assist is the more appropriate question. The U.S. military is a unique instrument of national will and one that must be employed with considerable caution and care. As the administration reviews its policy toward the region, it is timely that this committee focus on the current state of events and understand the impact of ongoing operations upon our armed forces within the Southern Command.
And to help us explore these policies and the policy questions we have before us today, General Peter Pace, commander in chief of the Southern Command.
STUMP: Mr. Skelton.
SKELTON: Mr. Chairman, thank you. And I join you in welcoming our witness, the commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, General Pace.
It's good to have you with us today, sir.
PACE: Thank you, sir.
SKELTON: The areas of the responsibility of the Southern Command is of great concern to our committee. And while we're pleased to note that every country in the AOR, except one, is a democracy, we must also take into account the several of those countries that are considerable risk. Poverty, failing economies, border disputes, violence, drug trafficking all contribute to a varying degree of instability throughout your region, General.
As to Vieques , the issues involved in the ongoing stalemate on that island -- we were all aware that these are the source of intense negotiations between the administration and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , as well as members of the conference committee on the defense authorization bill last year. And today, it continues to be of great concern to the body as a whole, and to the Hispanic Caucus of our Congress in particular.
It appears that we continue to be a long way from a solution that would not only ensure the training of our military needs, but would address the concerns of our colleagues in that caucus.
STUMP: Thank you.
General Pace, welcome to the committee. We look forward to your presentation. Your entire statement will be imprinted in the record in its entirety. And the floor is yours, sir. You may proceed any way you see fit. If you care to summarize, we'd appreciate it. That'll save a lot of time for questions and answers. Thank you, sir.
PACE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank each member of the committee for this opportunity to appear before you. It is truly an honor.
STUMP: Mr. Spence.
SPENCE: What about the -- it looks like -- the potential loss of Vieques ? What kind of impact is that going to have not only on you and your AOR, but the other forces we have from the standpoint of training?
I know during my active duty days, I used to patrol around Vieques and in and out of Roosevelt Roads and all those things. I'm very familiar with that area from way, way back. But I can't conceive of not having Vieques now. Are there any alternative sites that you can think of that we have in the AOR that we could use?
PACE: Sir, as you know, Admiral Fallon and I, about a year and a half ago, prepared a report for then-Secretary of the Navy Danzig on the alternatives to Vieques . We determined in our report that there was no other area in the Atlantic that could replicate what is being done at Vieques , that there's no other area where you can combine the surface with subsurface, high-altitude aerial delivery, Marines going ashore, combined arms, live fire, all the things that hone the skills of our young men and women before we put them into combat.
In my current position, I am fortunate in that the forces that come to me are fully trained. However, if, in fact, Vieques is no longer available, the forces that are deployed to me will not be as well trained as they have been in the past. So as a leader, as the father of a young Marine, that concerns me.
SPENCE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STUMP: Gentleman from Mississippi, Mr. Taylor?
TAYLOR: General, thank you very much for being here.
Since we're apparently going to be called for a vote, I had recommended to your predecessor a number of what I thought were just commonsense steps that any base commander would take to improve his relations with the citizens of the two small towns on the island of Vieques ; these are Isabel and I'm sorry the other one escapes me at the moment. Just things like putting Navy corpsmen in the clinic -- in the understaffed clinic, having Marines, who -- I understand Puerto Rico is a very, very productive recruiting depot with the Marine Corps -- having Marines go talk to the school kids since the other side has done such a thorough job of convincing them that the Navy's out to hurt them. Bring CBs down there for construction projects like we do all over the world.
I was curious -- that was now 16 months ago. Has anything along those lines occurred to try to improve our relations with the only place that I know of in the United States of America where we don't have good relations between the local folks and the base?
PACE: Sir, thank you, and I know your questions come from your vast amount of time that you've dedicated to traveling throughout the area that I'm responsible for and I thank you for that, sir.
TAYLOR: Thanks for letting me go down there. I guess you could veto it if you wanted to.
PACE: No, sir. With regard to Vieques , sir, as you know, Rear Admiral Green was sent down there about a year and a half ago now to, in fact, be the lead for the United States Navy in community relations and to try to repair the damage that had been done between the Navy community and the community especially in Vieques .
I need to defer to the CNO whose primary responsibility it is to enact whatever programs he and the secretary of Navy determine are best. However, from my perspective as a very interested member of the military community in the overall outcome of Vieques , I know that the Navy is trying very, very hard to be a good partner, to do the kinds of medical things that you talked about, to ease some of the frustration, to ease some of the anxiety, to help educate people as to what really is a medical threat and what's really not a medical threat, to be a better partner with them.
I am still very optimistic that there is a rational person's solution here that will take care of both the valid military training needs of this great country and the valid personal concerns of the citizens of Vieques .
STUMP: Mr. Underwood.
UNDERWOOD: One other question and I want to raise the issue of Vieques , because we have before us now the law which requires a certain process for dealing with it. Have you made any recommendations to the new administration as to how to deal with Vieques ? And what might those recommendations be? Are you proposing, perhaps, amending the law or making some alternate suggestion or some alternative site?
PACE: Sir, the administration is working through the Department of the Navy, which has been the case since the beginning of the Vieques discussions. I have not, as U.S. commander in chief of U.S. Southern Command, been asked my opinion.
In my previous assignment as commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Atlantic, I had my opportunity to voice my opinion, both before this committee and in writing.
UNDERWOOD: And would you reiterate your opinion, again, sir? PACE: My opinion is, sir, that I believe there is a way for the government of the United States and the government of Puerto Rico to satisfy the valid needs that this government to give our young men and women the training they deserve that we owe the parents of those children, those young men and women, before we ask them to go into harm's way to defend our country.
I also believe that there are valid concerns that the citizens on Vieques , that, over several years, have not been properly addressed and need to be addressed. But I think we can do that, as a family around a table having a discussion about how to get to where we want to go, as opposed to a finger-pointing exercise.
UNDERWOOD: I certainly hope for the sake of both our men and women in uniform, as well as for the people of Puerto Rico , that we can thread that needed.
UNDERWOOD: Thank you very much.
STUMP: Chairman of the Resources Committee, Mr. Hansen?
HANSEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
General, it just seems to me that the problems you have in SOUTHCOM and a lot of the things that you've done seem to be a common thread through here that you need a lot of intelligence.
I would be very curious how platforms, like Senior Scout and others have been working for you, in regard to the intelligence that is necessary to do your job.
Also, I'd, kind of, like to pick up on what Mr. Underwood talked about in Vieques . We got this moratorium that the secretary's put on, but if we cease all training and operations on that island, what are the alternative sources? You know, we've had in front of this committee -- and I personally feel it got a little too political last year, but that's my own opinion, but where are going to go? And on top of that, what's the impact going to be on the naval station, the Roosevelt Roads area?
I'm just kind of curious on the East Coast. We had Secretary Danzig sitting here and say, there's no questions that we have to prepare these youngsters to send them out. They would be unprepared. We've had the commandant of the Marine Corps say that. We had the CNO of the Navy say that. And yet, we've gone blindly forward and having no place to have live firing on the East Coast.
If I was a betting man, if anyone thinks that election is going to go in favor of the Navy, I think they're kidding themselves. But I've seen strange things happen in elections before.
But I would, kind of, like a response to those two issues, if you wouldn't mind.
PACE: Sir, with regard to the intelligence piece, I can give you a much better answer in a closed, classified way.
With regard to Vieques , sir, if we were to stop all operations in Puerto Rico , if that were the end result, were that we're not going to Vieques , we're not going to do anything, if that were the decision, that would have an enormous negative impact on my ability to do my job, as you've given it to me.
My Army headquarters is there. My Navy headquarters is there. My special operations headquarters is there. The best U.S.-owned facility in the Caribbean, and, therefore, stepping stone to the region, is at Roosevelt Roads.
The fact that there is no other location where you can do combined arms training is just that. It is a fact, sir. And If we do not have the opportunity to train in Vieques , our sons and daughters will not be as well-trained for combat as we train them today. But if that were to go away, to also then walk away from the other facilities, the greater ranges that are there, both underwater and surface ranges, to walk away from the strategic location provided by that airfield and by that port I think would be a mistake.
HANSEN: I totally agree.
And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
TAYLOR: The second question is, again, I hope something we don't have to pursue, but should we be unable to turn the political problem in Vieques around and should the Puerto Rican government succeed in letting the developers have that land, which is really my theory of what's driving most of this, and with the understanding that with the loss of Panama, Colombia maintained a large number of islands substantially north of the mainland of Colombia itself, has there been any talk of discussing with the Colombians the lease of any of those islands, I guess, along the lines of what we did with the British in World War II -- we did with the Lend-Lease program -- since we are spending a large amount of money helping the Colombian government now?
TAYLOR: I don't think it would be out of the question to ask them if they would consider leasing one of those island, should it come to this.
PACE: Sir, to my knowledge, there has not been that kind of discussion, to date.
TAYLOR: At what point do you expect some sort of a stop-go decision, with regard to Vieques ?
PACE: November 6, sir, election.
TAYLOR: OK. But not before that?
PACE: That's correct, sir.
TAYLOR: At one point, the governor of Puerto Rico was talking like she was not going to abide by the conditions of the agreement. Now, I don't claim to know much about contractual law, but it seems to be a two-way obligation. Is her voiding of the agreement on the part of the Puerto Ricans , is it the opinion of the administration that therefore the agreement is null?
PACE: Sir, I would defer to the policy-makers in the administration. But to my knowledge, she has not voided the agreement.
TAYLOR: There's only talk of it.
PACE: That's what I understand, sir.
TAYLOR: Nothing. OK.
Mr. Chairman, thank you.
General, thank you for sticking around.
PACE: Thank you, sir.
STUMP: The meeting is adjourned.