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Letter to the President
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
from William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense
1000 DEFENSE PENTAGON
WASHINGTON, DC 20301-1000
December 3, 1999
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Since receiving the report of the Special Panel on Military
Operations on Vieques (also known as the Rush Panel), I have reviewed
its recommendations in detail and considered the matter carefully.
I believe that discussions over the past several weeks have been
productive in suggesting steps that may advance our two primary
goals: ensuring the readiness of our Navy and Marine Corps and
improving the well-being of the people of Vieques.
My most important responsibility as Secretary of Defense is
to ensure that American military forces are well trained and ready
for the dangerous missions we routinely ask them to perform. It
is in this context that I have assessed the real and immediate
significance the Vieques Training Range has for the combat readiness
of Atlantic Fleet Navy and Marine Corps units. As you and I discussed
recently, two of the last three carrier battle groups to deploy
were involved in combat operations on their first day in theatre.
This underscores the importance of keeping our readiness at the
highest possible level. As stated by the five warfighting C1NCs
and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, using the Vieques Training Range
is a vital part of training our combat forces.
I also firmly believe that all US citizens, whether they live
in states or other jurisdictions, must make sacrifices in order
to support the strong national defense that preserves the freedoms
we all enjoy. There is not a single part of our country that doesn't
make some adjustments or accommodations to sustain the presence
of the military.
Having said that, it is clear from the panel's report that
the US citizens on Vieques have serious concerns that merit the
full attention of both the Department of the Navy and the Department
of Defense. You have my personal commitment that we will take
all possible steps to improve our stewardship and repair the relationships
The Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy have
developed a plan about which you have had productive discussions
with the Governor of Puerto Rico. Under this plan, I believe it
will be possible for the Navy and Marine Corps to resume training
at Vieques if a) that training is limited to inert weapons unless
and until a resumptioli of live fire training is agreed to by
the people of Vieques and the Navy; b) the training is reduced
from the 180 days per year presently used to 90 per year; c) within
five years of the resumption of training on Vieques, the Navy
will develop an alternative to that training and all training
on the island will terminate unless otherwise agreed by the people
of Vieques and the Navy; and d) the training is accompanied by
a vigorous community development and economic adjustment program
that recognizes and offsets the burdens that the training imposes
on the people of Vieques. (A draft of the economic program that
could be enacted upon continuous restoration of adequate use of
this range is attached to this letter.)
Live fire training remains a requirement to assure the highest
level of readiness of our forces. The Navy and Marine Corps may
seek to obtain the agreement of the people of Vieques to its restoration
-- recognizing that they first would have to make significant
and concrete improvements in their relationship with Vieques for
the people of Vieques to consider any changes in the nature of
the training. If, however, inert ordnance were to be used on Vieques,
the Navy and Marine Corps would need to obtain live fire training
in other locations in order to deploy at a satisfactory level
of combat readiness. This approach would not provide the unique
type of coordinated training that Vieques offers, but it would
prepare our forces for combat in a satisfactory manner.
While we have succeeded in developing this broad framework
of agreement, after consulting with senior law enforcement officials,
it is nonetheless clear that continued uncertainty over range
security stands in the way of guaranteeing access to Vieques for
the EISENHOWER Battle Group and the WASP Amphibious Ready Group.
There currently is no comparable alternative to the use of Vieques.
Accordingly, in the present security environment, we have directed
the groups to accomplish further training off the East Coast of
the United States and I am working with senior Naval officials
to secure necessary commitments from our allies to accommodate
further live fire training and readiness certification for the
EISENHOWER Battle Group and the WASP Amphibious Ready Group before
undertaking combat operations. The groups will deploy to the combat
zone only after the satisfactory substitute combat training is
To provide time for eliminating the remaining impediments to
our return and to allow the people of Vieques themselves to evaluate
this understanding, 1 propose that training described above not
resume on Vieques until next spring when it will be required for
the GEORGE WASHINGTON Battle Group and the KEARSARGE Amphibious
Ready Group. In the intervening period, I recommend that discussions
continue in Puerto Rico on our plan, and that next week, a Navy-Vieques
consultation group meet with RADM Kevin Green, the newly appointed
senior Naval representative to Puerto Rico. The focus of this
group will be to discuss with the people of Vieques the implementation
of our plan, develop processes for consultation between the Navy
and the people of Vieques about Naval activities on Vieques, and
to establish a forum that may improve relations between the Navy
and the people of the island.
I hope the above steps will create an environment in which
the vital training of our armed forces can resume on Vieques.
I will see that DoD and the Navy make good on our commitments.
Obviously, however, our framework of agreement will be impossible
to implement if we are prevented from using the range for the
training of the GEORGE WASHINGTON Battle Group, the KEARSARGE
Amphibious Ready Group, and subsequent groups. I should also note
that I have been advised by both the Chief of Naval Operations
and the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the end of training
on Vieques would require a total reassessment of the other military
activities in Puerto Rico. I am hopeful, however, that conditions
will exist to support our long-term presence.
Mr. President, I am proud to note the brave and historic service
to our nation by citizens from Puerto Rico. In Korea, for example,~
Puerto Ricans served with particular distinction and sacrifice.
The legendary 65th Infantry Regiment alone had 743 soldiers killed
in action. Members received 134 Silver Stars, 8 Distinguished
Service Crosses, and Marine Corps Private Fernando Luis Garcia
gave his life and received the Medal of Honor. In Vietnam, Army
Private First Class Carlos Lozada from Caguas, Specialist 4th
Class Hector Santiago-Colon from Salinas, and Capt. Euripides
Rubio from Ponce were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The heroism of these men and the thousands of other citizens from
Puerto Rico who have defended our nation stands as an indisputable
testament to the patriotism of Puerto Rico.
By the same token [LIKEWISE], Mr. President, at this time nearly
40,000 citizens from Puerto Rico wear the uniform of our country
in both active duty and reserve capacities. For them, and for
all of our forces, we must ensure that our troops are properly
trained to meet the very dangerous challenges we ask them to face
Thank you for your considerable efforts to resolve this issue.
William S. Cohen
Secretary of Defense
PROPOSED COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM FOR VIEOUES
This community and economic development program, which has
ten key elements and an estimated value of $40 million, could
be enacted upon continuous restoration of adequate use of the
Vieques training range. Recognizing that some items on this list
will require authorizing legislation, I propose the following:
- Close the ammunition storage facility on the western end
of the island and allocate part of the property for parkland
and environmental preservation and designate the remainder (except
the 100 acres needed for the radar and antenna sites) for use
by the residents of Vieques.
- Support the construction of a new commercial ferry pier and
terminal by the Army Corps of Engineers, which has studied the
proposal already. This would allow Vieques to proceed with plans
for a new high-speed ferry service between Vieques and the main
island, long a priority for local officials.
- Complete the conveyance of 110 acres of Navy property to
extend the runway at the Vieques Municipal Airport to accommodate
larger passenger aircraft. In addition, the Navy would provide
training and supplemental equipment to bolster the airport's
fire, safety and rescue capability.
- DoD would establish an artificial reef construction and fish
aggregation program to create substantial new commercial fishing
areas for Vieques fishermen. Until such time as these new fishing
grounds are operational, Navy would authorize direct payment
of an amount (to be determined by the National Marine Fisheries
Service) to be paid to registered Vieques commercial fisherman
for each day they are unable to use existing fishing waters because
of Navy training.
- Navy would support expanding or improving the major cross
island roadways and bridges on Vieques.
- Navy would establish an apprenticeship-training program run
by Navy Reserve Seabees (civil engineers) for young people on
Vieques to facilitate participation in small-scale civic construction
- Navy would establish a program with the Commonwealth of Puerto
Rico to preserve the Puerto Mosquito Vieques bioluminescent bay.
One-third of this bay lies along Navy conservation zone coastline,
and the Navy would commit resources to its preservation.
- Navy would establish a professional economic development
office on Vieques for the purpose of promoting Vieques and attracting
jobs to the island. This office would work closely with Puerto
Rico's Economic Development Administration.
- DoD would fund a Public Health Service study in coordination
with other appropriate agencies to review health concerns raised
by residents of Vieques.
- Steps would be taken to address local concerns about excessive
noise during training exercises.