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The Washington Times

Why Didn’t The Navy Train At Vieques?

By Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough

January 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Washington Times. All Rights Reserved.

Four House members have asked Navy Secretary Gordon England in a letter to explain why the Navy decided not to send the carrier USS John F. Kennedy, and its battle group, to Vieques for live-fire training.

The Kennedy is scheduled to leave its Mayport, Fla., port soon for the Arabian Sea near Afghanistan. The uniform chiefs of the Navy and Marine Corps had asked Mr. England in writing to let the battle group go through live-fire training on the Puerto Rican island, where protesters oppose any further Navy training.

In the end, the Navy decided to have the Kennedy group practice at East Coast ranges, avoiding a political confrontation that the White House does not want.

The congressional letter states, "You denied them the ability to gain this invaluable training on Vieques despite the specific request of the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps without identifying an equal or superior location. We have been informed that your non-support has forced the battle group to use less suitable ranges on the East Coast, where they will not be able to acquire the level of realistic training that may potentially save the lives of our men and women in combat. Why?"

The letter was signed by four Republicans: Reps. Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; Bob Barr of Georgia; Christopher Shays of Connecticut; and Adam H. Putnam of Florida.

A Navy spokesman said the decision not to conduct a final training tune-up on Vieques was made by the Atlantic Fleet, not Mr. England.

A former Clinton administration official who fought to keep Vieques open to the Navy told us the decision sends the signal that the Navy doesn't really need Vieques as much as it contended during the past two years of rancorous debate.

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