Peace Time: December 12, 1999

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The US announced on 3 Dec that it would temporarily suspend bombings and shellings at the live fire combat range on Vieques, Puerto Rico, as a start on a gradual five-year phase out of the facility. Live fire training has been blocked by protestor camps since 19 April, when a mis-dropped bomb killed a Puerto Rican civilian employee, the only such casualty in the 50-year history of the firing range. The Navy has agreed to use only inert ammunition for such live-fire training during the five-year phase-out period, and that all training (including amphibious landings) will be terminated at the end of five years. Training on the island would be limited to 90 days per year, half of the current 180. The Navy said it hopes to resume such training by Spring 2000, after another carrier and amphibious group leave for their operational deployments without adequate training. To convince the local population to accept the deal, the Pentagon will offer $40 million in development aid, which may make up for decades during which the Puerto Rican government has failed to provide any development programs for the island of Vieques. As part of the deal, the Marines will have to hand over part of their prime maneuver area (the only part of the island not covered with trash) to local developers. Puerto Rican governor Rossello quickly rejected the deal, saying that he had been deceived and cheated as he had been discussing an immediate naval withdrawal with President Clinton. Rossello, a key political ally of both Clinton and Vice President Gore, said he would not accept any deal except an immediate end of naval training on Vieques. The Navy is now threatening to reduce its operations in Puerto Rico, which pump millions of dollars into the Puerto Rican economy every day. Alternatives to Vieques are few and expensive. The Navy will make use of a gunnery range in Scotland so that the ships can at least fire their weapons, but this range lacks an adjacent landing and maneuver area. --Stephen V Cole

Peacekeeping missions are more costly to combat readiness than most people realize. . For every battalion off on peacekeeping duty, you are actually keeping three battalions from being combat ready. One battalion is getting ready to go several months before shipping out. Units must go through peacekeeping training Combat ready units are conditioned to respond to threats with a lot of violence. This is not what you want in peacekeeping situations, so it takes a while to change the troops habits. When a unit comes back from a six month peacekeeping tour, leave and retraining take up six months or more before the unit is combat ready once more.

December 11, 1999, 1999; After the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain could not keep homosexuals out of its military, the British government has come up with a new policy under which soldiers cannot "display affection" between members of the same or opposite sexes. Homosexuals will be allowed to enlist, but not to publicly express their sexuality. The British military strongly opposes the idea and wants to keep homosexuals out. The new policy will probably not go into effect until next year, and may be delayed by a period of review.--Stephen V Cole

President Clinton has reportedly reached a deal with Puerto Rican governor Rossello that would allow the Navy to resume live firing at the Vieques naval gunnery range. The deal provides that the training must stop within five years, giving the Navy time to find another place to conduct it (and time to figure out where the $1 billion to move the amphibious training site will come from). Problems remain and the deal may be far from complete. Puerto Rico continues to insist that, during the five years, the Navy should use only inert training rounds, and it is unclear if any ammunition in the current inventory will satisfy this Puerto Rican demand. The protesters who have occupied the gunnery range say that the deal is not good enough, they want the entire US military presence removed and immediately, not partially and five years from now. The US is reportedly considering the idea of flying in 100 or more FBI agents who would remove the protesters, although it is unclear how they would be prevented from returning. --Stephen V Cole

During Fiscal 1999, the Army drove its tanks an average of 671 training miles, up from 630 miles in FY98. Army standards insist that units which do not drive their tanks 800 miles per year are not adequately trained. During both years, only the 1st Infantry Division reached the 800-mile goal.--Stephen V Cole

 


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