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The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA

Keep Training At Vieques Until Replacement Is Found

BY Howie Lind

July 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA. All Rights Reserved.

The Vieques Island dispute is very distressing because of "outside" forces that are toying with a significant national asset of the U.S. military.

The Vieques training range should not be closed until a suitable replacement can be found, which may be well after the 2003 time frame that was recently reported. The Navy has already spent considerable time and effort over the past few years investigating alternative training ranges, but an acceptable replacement range has not been found.

Of the five ships that I served on during my naval career, four ships were stationed on the East Coast. I participated in live-fire exercises in each of these four ships at Vieques Island while preparing for overseas deployments.

This training is not just confined to ships firing weapons in support of troops ashore; it also has tremendous value for combat aircraft from all branches of service.

The training environment on Vieques is perfect for live-fire exercises because of tropical temperatures and good weather most of the year. The topographical description of the island is very advantageous for live-firing with clear visual definition of a sandy coastline rising into a brown colored mid-level, and continuing up to a dark green-colored mountain range running the length of the island.

Interestingly, my first ship that I served aboard was located in San Diego. The live-fire training range on San Clemente Island was closed for similar reasons now being heard regarding Vieques. The Pacific Fleet was able to relocate its training exercises to Tibones Island in the Philippine Island chain. There has been no such alternative found by the leadership in the Atlantic Fleet.

The reason for live-fire training is much more than just "we've always done it that way." For our forces to deploy with near-combat experience is invaluable and cannot be measured in terms of dollars or lives saved.

It is ironic that we now live in a more unstable world than during the Cold War. The fall of the Soviet Union 10 years ago has resulted in larger numbers of rogue nations and terrorist groups acting against the United States and the rest of the free world. The bipolar, Cold War world of the United States pitted against the U.S.S.R. ensured an uneasy peace around the globe.

Not anymore. We now rely on our military more than ever to keep the peace in locations far and wide. Therefore, the combat training that the armed forces receive is critical to their mission accomplishment.

There appears to be more emotion than rational thought now dominating the debate over Vieques. From my time spent at a close distance off of the coast of Vieques Island, I do not recall seeing any signs of an indigenous population or wildlife.

It appears that a combination of fringe groups, such as environmentalists and a few opportunistic New York politicians, have joined forces with some disgruntled Puerto Ricans to inflame this issue.

Finally, a referendum in Puerto Rico as to whether this training should continue is not warranted. The Puerto Rican governor should be assured that the United States is investigating relocation possibilities, but we have not found a replacement training range yet.

Importantly, we should not agree to any relocation timetable until a suitable range is found. This process may take many years, if ever, to complete.

The governor should also be reminded that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth associated with the United States, and that the U.S. Congress has the responsibility for governance over Puerto Rico. In effect, this is similar to one of our 50 states demanding that a U.S. military training range located on her soil be closed. That notion is unthinkable.

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