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Pacific Daily News, Hagatna
Closing Down Vieques "A Very Dangerous Precedent"
Economic, Military Security Outweigh Rights Of FDM Birds
by Joe Murphy
August 5, 2002
It is really hard to find a nice, green island to bomb anymore. The natives and environmentalists take deep umbrage at 500-pound bombs hurtling down from the air.
Take tiny Farallon de Medinilla in the Northern Marianas. The U.S. Court of Appeals recently granted a motion by the Department of Defense that will allow the military to resume bombing and live-fire exercises on Farallon.
But before that interesting turn of fortune, the U.S. military suffered some severe setbacks in the battle for bombing ranges.
I remember when I was a young guy, wearing wings for the Navy, we used to divebomb one of the tiny Hawaiian islands. A few years ago we stopped that bombing and gave the island back to native Hawaiians.
Even more recently, the Army was in court trying to maintain a live-fire infantry training range in the Makua Valley on Oahu.
The biggest threat to live bombing to the U.S. military came when President George W. Bush make a decision - under extreme pressure - to close the Navy's range on Vieques Island, off Puerto Rico , by 2003.
One Navy spokesman calls closing down Vieques "a very dangerous precedent" that could undermine military training.
It seems to come down to the question of who is more important - a few activists or birds, or the readiness of the U.S. military. Puerto Rico 's economy could be seriously hurt by the loss of this bombing range.
Farallon de Medinilla is uninhabited. It is the only site in the Western Pacific authorized for live-fire exercises. Yes, there are birds there, and yes, nobody wants to see their nesting areas destroyed. But there seems to be no choice. The role that Farallon plays for the military is critical.
It also is extremely vital to the economies of both the Northern Marianas and Guam. Two separate "white papers" were to be handed to Defense Department officials by representatives of the Northern Marianas and Guam. The leaders of the island territories want the Pentagon to know that they appreciate the military and recognize that they contribute greatly to the economy.
For instance, a 2001 survey commissioned by the Guam Chamber of Commerce showed that more than 80 percent of Guam's registered voters supported an even greater military presence.
Guam's leaders have been talking about growing the economy for years with little success. It seems very obvious to me that with the terrorist war, Guam and the Northern Marianas will get a boost in military spending, being in this part of the world. A few months ago I went over to Tinian and saw a thousand or more Marines conducting tests of equipment, including a huge catamaran that brought them over from Okinawa.
Guam, of course, will see two submarines homeported here in a few months, with a third coming in later. A special forces group also will be a part of the Guam scene. Just recently the House of Representatives passed a bill approving $75 million in military construction on Guam. That is the largest military construction budget in years, indicating that the military presence in the islands is taking a definite step forward. A submarine repair facility also is planned for Guam to work on the USS City of Corpus Christi and the USS San Francisco, the nuclear submarines.
One of the goals behind the white papers, written by the Chamber of Commerce, was to end the perception that Guam wasn't particularly warm about hosting more military. I think it is and applaud the chamber for bringing this concept to the military's attention.
Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.