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Dayton Daily News

OTHER VOICES: Setting The Record Straight On Navy Exercises In Vieques

by Rear Adm. Kevin P. Green

October 2, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Dayton Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

No evidence exists to show training drills threaten residents

IN A JULY 7 EDITORIAL (`NAVY can defuse Vieques tension') the Dayton Daily News urged the Navy to set a date for an impending referendum in which the people of Vieques, a sparsely populated island off Puerto Rico's east coast, will determine the fate of the Navy's critical training facility there.

The referendum is scheduled for May 1, 2001, or up to 270 days earlier or later, per the presidential directives of Jan. 31, 2000, regarding Navy training on the island.

We need to clear up some popular misconceptions and put the controversy in the proper perspective.

The U.S. Navy serves the American people. Our first obligation in training our forces is that we do no harm to our neighbors in the process. We must always consider the effects of training on our neighbors and fellow citizens, whether they are in Vieques or elsewhere in the United States.

Honesty dictates that we all look objectively and clearly at the effects visited on Vieques. To date, there is no verifiable scientific study linking Navy activities with health issues on the island. If credible evidence appears, we are compelled to look at it, understand what we see and change our actions accordingly.

We also have the obligation to communicate what we are doing and why we are doing it. The Navy is fully cooperating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a public-health assessment for Vieques and looks forward to the results of the study.

Spurious allegations have cast Navy operations at Vieques in a bad light. Unfortunately, this process has not been a fair one, but one in which the loudest voice from special-interest groups often carries the day.

More than 90 percent of those detained and subsequently arrested for attempting to disrupt Navy training have not even been from Vieques, for example. Solving real problems requires sobriety, science and straight answers rather than falling back on convenient scapegoats or politically motivated excuses.

The fact of the matter is that the Navy's range on Vieques is eight to 10 miles away from the civilian population, which represents a significantly greater buffer zone than exists at several major live- fire ranges in the continental United States. The Navy's safety record in Vieques is solid, with not one injury or fatality outside the range in nearly 60 years of operations.

The impact area constitutes less than 3 percent of the land area of Vieques. The vast majority of Navy lands remain in a conservation zone status . The Navy has been a good steward of the environment, with an excellent record on our sea turtle program in addition to measures to preserve habitats for brown pelicans and manatees.

Vieques is unique. It is out of the path of commercial airline flights, it's close to deep water with minimal shipping and fishing traffic, has the acreage to permit simultaneous maneuver of Marine forces and aerial and ship gunfire, and with a major logistics hub only 10 miles away is home to an irreplaceable training site. Failure to provide adequate and realistic training for our sailors and Marines (6,000 of whom are from Puerto Rico) who routinely sail into harm's way around the globe in support of U.S. foreign policy is a violation of their civil rights.

As the Navy works to improve our relationship with the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico, the attempts to discredit and demonize the service without a single shred of data based on empirical data and hard science have done an injustice to what is morally right. In repairing the Navy's relationship with Vieques and Puerto Rico, we need to start by correcting the record and working together openly, fairly and honestly, on a basis of mutual respect.

* Rear Adm. Kevin P. Green is commander of U.S. Naval Forces at the Southern Command Naval Station at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. He is also a 1967 graduate of Colonel White High School. The fact of the matter is that the Navy's range on Vieques is 8 to 10 miles away from the civilian population.

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