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No Mas Jobs Adios, Vieques; Hello, Florida
No Mas Jobs
January 15, 2003
The end of the Cold War meant profound change for communities around the country that had hosted U.S. military facilities rendered superfluous by the sudden disappearance of the Soviet threat.
Tens of thousands of well-paid civilian jobs vaporized virtually overnight as bases closed, ships were mothballed and venerable military outfits demobilized.
It was a small enough price to pay for peace, to be sure.
Except if one of the jobs lost was yours.
As several thousand civilians who now earn their livings on or nearby the Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico are likely soon to discover.
It seems that those political activists (and their allies, like Gov. Pataki) who fought successfully to end the use of the island of Vieques off Puerto Rico as a naval bombing range could well be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Now that the practice bombing is about to stop - the last scheduled exercise began Monday, and should run for about a month - the commander of the Atlantic Fleet says there's no reason for the Navy to remain at Roosevelt Roads.
"Without Vieques , there is no way I need the Navy facilities at Roosevelt Roads - none," says Adm. Robert Natter. "It's a drain on Defense Department and taxpayer dollars."
What will the loss of the 63-year-old facility mean to Puerto Rico ?
Nothing less than $250 million a year for the local economy, not to mention 3,850 civilian workers and 3,000 active-duty personnel.
In fact, the installation is one of the largest single employers in the entire commonwealth.
Which is why folks like Rep. Jose Serrano - suddenly faced with the realization that the misguided political campaign to halt the bombing is having unexpected consequences - are scrambling to keep Roosevelt Roads from closing.
They might win: Base closings must be approved by Congress based on the recommendations of an independent commission. Which means ultimately that - like the initial controversy - partisan politics may well triumph over fiscal and military considerations.
Not that everyone in Puerto Rico has been particularly grateful, up to now, for the opportunities created by the Navy's presence.
In a memo to Navy Secretary Gordon England, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones complained that "some in Puerto Rico (particularly Vieques ) have demonstrated an appalling hostility towards sailors, Marines and their requirement for pre-deployment training."
We don't like to see even ungrateful people suffer harsh economic consequences. But the forced end, on spurious grounds, of a half-century of military training on Vieques - during time of war, no less - has brought about new military realities.
The U.S. Navy's future presence there must be based solely on what is in the Navy's best interests.
Adios, Vieques; Hello, Florida
The Navy Pulls Out For Good
January 16, 2003
The Navy's decision to pull out of Vieques after more than a half-century of using the Puerto Rican island for bombing exercises will meet a May 2003 deadline set by the Clinton administration and reinforced by the Bush administration. While the Navy brass once called Vieques a ''crown jewel'' for practice bombings, it turns out that other sites -- including in Florida -- will get the job done, after all. This is a welcome change of attitude.
The pullout was cheered by many Puerto Ricans, especially activists whose opposition to the bombing maneuvers had escalated in recent years. Yet not all islanders want to see the Navy leave, for it will mean an economic loss.
To offset the loss, Vieques residents hope to improve their overall health and they expect the departure to stimulate economic development. Some residents believed that the maneuvers caused cancers and other health problems. Environmental damage from military exercises is inevitable, though over the years the military has gotten better at controlling the negative effects.
But in April 1999, a bombing accident killed a civilian security guard at the range. In response, the Navy used dummy ammunition for a brief period. Then last October it was revealed that a simulated chemical agent that causes cancer in animals was used during a training exercise 35 years ago. Yet the higher-than-normal rates of cancer and other ailments haven't yet been scientifically linked to the maneuvers.
The new sites chosen for the Navy's maneuvers already serve as practice grounds for the military. This includes an area in the southern Gulf of Mexico that, according to the Navy, is well out to sea from Key West and its reefs. Other Florida sites include a bombing range in Ocala National Forest that the Navy just received a 20-year extension for use; Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City; and Avon Park Air Force range in central Florida. Other sites are in Georgia and North Carolina.
It's never good when the U.S. military presence becomes intrusive and unwelcome on once-friendly soil, in this case a U.S. territory. The Navy should use the lessons learned from its Vieques experience to be a better neighbor when it resumes these vitally important maneuvers.