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Hansen On Vieques : "Train As We Fight"
By Gordon I Peterson
October 1, 2001
Sea Power: Why do you believe it is important for the Navy and Marine Corps to have a single site to conduct the full spectrum of live-fire training?
Hansen: During my 20 years of service on the House Armed Services Committee [HASC], every military leader has testified that the military must "train as we fight." If that principle is going to be anything other than hollow words, it must include the ability for different units-from different services, with different weapons-to train together in realistic scenarios under the increased tension and danger inherent in livefire conditions. Combined-arms live-fire training is the final exam, and our nation should never again allow that exam to be conducted under the sights of enemy guns.
What accounts for your opposition to the referendum in November that would allow voters on Vieques to determine the future of the Navy's ranges?
I have consistently opposed the idea that fundamental national security matters should be subject to the whims of a local referendum. I strongly opposed President Clinton's decision to set this dangerous precedent, and I hope that President Bush will support our efforts to repeal this bad idea. Our Constitution does not envision each state or territory setting its own national security policy-or each community limiting how the military can train on federal lands set aside for that purpose.
How do you think the full House will receive the proposals for Vieques that are contained in the HASC markup of the Defense Authorization Act?
Our legislation does two things. First, it repeals the requirement for the local referendum, as requested by the secretary of the Navy and the president. Second, it requires the Navy and Marine Corps to identify an alternative range that is both equivalent and available before they can depart Vieques . This requirement is fully consistent with testimony from Navy leaders. I am confident that a majority of my colleagues will see this as both good security policy and plain common sense.
Do you expect the Navy's current study to address all issues of interest to the HASC?
I hope so. We have already met with representatives from CNA [Center for Naval Analyses] and plan to meet soon with the distinguished officers who are leading the review. While each of these leaders has my full confidence, I do hope to share some of my concerns with them. In particular, I think it is critical that any review starts by assessing the military capabilities we need to field and the training requirements necessary to fully meet these needs. Only then can we compare current training at Vieques -and all alternatives-to this standard.
Realistic assessments of issues such as cost, schedule, local and environmental regulations, impact on training cycles and tempo, and overall effect on predeployment combat readiness also must be included. I also am concerned that their work not "dumb down" training requirements in order to fit a less capable alternative training site than Vieques . That kind of lowering of the bar-especially regarding live-fire and combined-arms training-would have dangerous repercussions for military operations across the country and around the world.
In the end, what do you see as the "best case" for resolving the Vieques impasse?
Rather than "best case," I prefer to think of the "bottom line." The best case would depend on one's agenda, and there are too many already at play. The bottom line for me is realistic training of our Navy and Marine Corps team.
The CNO [chief of naval operations] and the commandant [of the Marine Corps] have both testified that this training saves lives and without it many would perish. I hope we can all put other agendas aside and focus on that reality. If we can provide quality realistic training at another location, so be it. But if we cannot, or if some critical portion of the training would be sacrificed, we should be prepared to stay in Vieques and improve our relations with our fellow American citizens.
Public health and safety should never be put at risk. They are not on Vieques , but the military must commit to do more. They can and should be-and in most cases are-better neighbors, worthy of the trust and support of surrounding communities. If the president, the secretary of defense, and the Congress were prepared to make that case, I still believe that the majority of the patriotic citizens of Puerto Rico would support them.
How serious is the problem of civilian encroachment on military training facilities and ranges?
The problem of encroachment on military training facilities and ranges is one of the most serious and complex problems facing the Pentagon today. The natural frictions of civilian growth around even our most remote bases have always been issues, but they can usually be managed through local communication and cooperation. Planning night-flying at our fighter bases to reduce noise is a good example of a low-cost local workaround.
Lately, though, I have seen the issue get much more complex and organized in two critical areas. We have seen increased political pressure--from Vieques , to Okinawa and Korea-- where a vocal minority of the population does not want a U.S. military presence. It is very disturbing that some of these protests are supported by government leaders and others hostile to American security interests, such as Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
The other new threat is the proliferation of litigation and overzealous application of environmental laws and regulations. In many of these cases, the military is effectively punished for its excellent stewardship of the resources entrusted to them. Many of our military installations are important sanctuaries for wildlife precisely because of the care they take, and the substantial financial investment they make, in managing these lands. National security needs to be restored to an equal status with environmental protection when our nation makes these decisions before the next endangered species is the well-- trained American Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine.