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New York Post

The Vieques Vultures & New York's Shame

By Bob McManus

May 31, 2001
Copyright © 2001 New York Post Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

ALL that remained yesterday of a Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bomber that crashed during a training flight on Tuesday was to be found in and around a 15-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide crater just northeast of Lake Okeechobee, Fla.

And the pilot, Lt. Cmdr. David E. Casher, USN, was dead at age 40, in service to America.

As usual, America barely noticed. New York, of course, couldn't have cared less.

We're way too cool.

So much so that we seek to make naval aviation - problematic to begin with - significantly more dangerous than it needs to be.

Right now, New York's political leadership is on a mission of its own: To shut down the naval training grounds at Vieques, Puerto Rico .

It's always a mistake to expect too much from New York's political class. But the Vieques debate - if that's the proper term for the high-profile pander now underway - is notable for its shocking irresponsibility.

What is it about Vieques that's so unique, anyway?

It's a barely populated, isolated island off Puerto Rico - about 3 percent of which has been used for aerial and naval bombardment practice for more than 60 years.

Its chief utility to the Navy and Marine Corps is that it is, in fact, an island - the Navy and Marine Corps being in the island-bombing business, among other things.

Similarly, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division is headquartered up near Watertown, at Ft. Drum in the Adirondack foothills - an appropriate environment for the training of mountain troops.

From time to time, 10th Mountain troops operate with Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt ground-support planes - big, noisy beasts that scare Adirondack ducks and bears and annoy most of the people.

But Gov. Pataki, who goes into a swoon whenever he hears the word " Vieques ," is dumb as a post regarding Ft. Drum.

No surprise there. Shuffle the 10th Mountain Division out of Watertown, and the economic disintegration of that neck of the North Country would be essentially complete. Not an auspicious legacy for a Republican governor.

A Vieques shutdown, meanwhile, would place in serious doubt the utility of nearby Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, an economic dynamo for Puerto Rico since the Spanish-American War.

Of course, Pataki will be safely re-elected (or not) long before the fate of Roosevelt Roads is decided.

Whether New York voters of Puerto Rican origin generally rate Vieques as a top concern - or have thought through the consequences of a Vieques shutdown - is an open question.

Not so the motives of the more vocal opponents of keeping the range in operation.

New York pols are, at best, apathetic to the need for a well-equipped, well-trained military. Many are openly antagonistic.

For the latter, closing Vieques is a means to an end: A weakened military, after all, means a diminished U.S. global presence.

What's ironic, three days after Memorial Day, is that many of the very same politicians who stood solemnly Monday as the bells tolled for America's war dead will today be among the most noisy critics ofthe Vieques training range.

It's a "human rights" issue, don't you know?

But Vieques - and Puerto Rico - aren't being put upon. Neither is Ft. Drum (nor, for that matter, is West Milton, up in Saratoga County, where the Navy runs a fully functioning nuclear-submarine propulsion prototype).

These are among the burdens of citizenship.

And down in Virgina Beach, Va., a flight of 10 F/A-18s took off, noisily, Tuesday morning.

Nine aircraft landed later, on three wheels, at Key West, Fla. - while the 10th plowed that crater near Lake Okeechobee.

It's a risky way to make a living, flying in defense of true human rights.

Why make it worse?

Why, indeed.

New York should be ashamed of itself.

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