Closing Training Complex in Puerto Rico Would Hurt Military Readiness

Article excerpt

On April 19, a military aircraft was involved in a tragic accident at the U.S. Navy's weapons range on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Flying from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier during a training mission, the pilot bombed the wrong target - an observation building located on the range adjacent to the assigned targets. His mistake resulted in the death of David Sanes, a security guard employed by the U.S. government at the facility, and injuries to four other Navy employees.

The tragic accident has prompted many in Puerto Rico to demand closure of the Vieques Weapons Range and the departure of the Navy from Vieques. In support of this effort, a full-page advertisement appeared in The Washington Times on Sept. 8 (Page A5). The advertisement, besides its attempt to gloss over a serious issue of national defense, was in large part inaccurate.

I would like to address some of the most egregious inaccuracies. The residents of Vieques never have been and are not currently in danger from the training activities conducted by our military at the weapons range. This training complex is located on the far eastern tip of Vieques Island, more than eight miles from the nearest town. In more than 50 years of range operations, not one civilian living or working off the range has ever been killed or placed at risk. Mr. Sanes was the only fatality, and his death occurred on the range while he was performing his duty as a government contract employee.

The Vieques Weapons Range, also on the eastern tip of the island, comprises approximately 900 acres, less than 3 percent of the total land mass of the island. This small weapons range is the only location on the island where bombs and naval gunfire are used for training.

The health of the residents of Vieques is not at risk from Navy operations on the range. No verifiable health problems have been linked to training activities on this weapons range or any of the other 56 ranges owned and operated by the Department of Defense throughout the United States. …