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The New York Post

How Vieques Saves Lives

August 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Navy's resumption of bombing last week in Vieques , Puerto Rico, has triggered protests, just as bombing did in June.

But opponents continue to underestimate the importance of the exercises there.

Consider, for example, that not a single American pilot was lost in last year's NATO air war against Serbia - despite the fact that our airmen flew hundreds of sorties over the area in their victorious campaign to halt the slaughter of Albanians there.

Part of the success can be attributed to the fact that many of the fliers were carrier pilots who had practiced in Vieques just months before.

Indeed, the Vieques range has been a vital training ground for every military conflict we've faced since World War II, according to the commander of U.S. Naval Forces for the Southern Command, Rear Admiral Kevin Green.

Why Vieques ?

Because it is the only site the Navy has found so far that permits combined land, sea and air exercises.

And the Navy has been using its range there - some 900 acres, or less than 3 percent of the Navy's land on Vieques - for 60 years.

Some residents of the island - and they constitute but a fraction of the protesters - have been complaining about the bombing.

That's understandable.

In April 1999, an errant bomb killed one resident and injured four others. There are also complaints of other health hazards and the loss of potential tourist business.

Besides, who wants to live near a live bombing site?

But the Navy has been working to help the people of Vieques . It employs thousands of Puerto Ricans - including more than 4,400 sailors. And its Economic Development Team has embarked on a plan to tackle such issues as job-training, infrastructure improvement, transportation and tourism on the island.

Most important, though, is that the training exercises are essential to ensure America's combat readiness - and to save lives.

When America sends its soldiers and sailors into battle, it wants them to come home victorious, for sure - but it wants them to come home, first and foremost.

Without proper training - under the same live-ammunition conditions of the battlefield - our troops will be at a disadvantage.

That mustn't be allowed to happen.

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