Burning American flags and shouting anti-American slogans, hundreds of protesters broke through a fence at a Puerto Rico bombing range two weeks ago, smashing military vehicles with sledgehammers. The purpose of these “playful” citizens was to celebrate the U.S. Navy’s departure after 60 years of military training. Vieques, Puerto Rico, was the only base where the Atlantic Fleet could fully integrate Marine amphibious landings, Naval gunfire support, and close air support by F-14 Tomcats and FA-18 Hornets from aircraft carriers.
Last year Congressman Bob Filner (D-San Diego), whose district includes the homeport of the Pacific Fleet, wrote President Bush demanding the U.S. Navy unconditionally withdraw from Vieques, citing “environmental reasons.” Filner then informed the Commander in Chief, without offering any explanation, that training previously conducted in Puerto Rico “can be satisfied through other sites and means.” Apparently, Filner is now a multi-force training ops expert.
Military training across the nation has been similarly hobbled by environmental regulations and lawsuits. Marine amphibious landings are restricted at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, during turtle-nesting season. Navy SEAL training is interrupted in Coronado, California, due to the migratory patterns of a bird called the Snowy Plover. Soldiers at Fort Irwin, California, are ordered to suspend desert training if a tortoise crawls out of its hole.
There is even a push to require “Green Ammo,” forcing the military to replace “environmentally unfriendly” lead-based rounds with tungsten. Tungsten bullets are less effective and cost twice as much as standard lead ammo, but animals prefer them. The new ammunition would also make the U.S. military dependant on Communist China, which has the world’s largest tungsten deposits.
Filner is also sponsoring a bill called the “Military Environmental Responsibility Act” that seeks to remove the U.S. Armed Forces’ “sovereign immunity” from all environmental regulations. Such a law would place our Armed Forces under the thumb of the Environmental Protection Agency. MERA would also subject the Secretary of Defense to a barrage of “citizen lawsuits” under the Endangered Species, Noise Control, Migratory Bird, and Marine Mammal Protection Acts, as well as a host of other environmental regulations.
The military is already spending more than 5 billion dollars a year trying to comply with environmental regulations. At Fort Hood, Texas, only 17 percent of the base’s 185,000 acres are free from environmental regulation. In Arizona, bombing practice is halted if antelope stray within five kilometers of a target area. Live fire training in Oahu, Hawaii is stopped on behalf of bats and tree snails.
Only about 1,500 meters of Camp Pendleton’s 17 miles of coastline are available to practice amphibious landings, due to species-related restrictions. A lawsuit by a group calling itself the “Natural Resources Defense Council” would bar exercises near “critical habitats” for six species of birds and animals, placing nearly 60 percent of the base off-limits. Simple training such as digging foxholes is already severely restricted. Will Marines have to die in some future conflict for the sake of a gnatcatcher, tidewater goby, or arroyo toad?
Last year, Major General Edward Hanlon, former Commanding General at Camp Pendleton, warned Congress about the dangers of environmental “encroachment” on military training: “We are training a generation of Marines who will have less experience in the intricacies of combat operations.” Today’s junior leaders may not receive realistic military experience until they are faced with actual combat. Filsner’s proposed MERA would have an even more crippling effect on military readiness, but perhaps that is the point.
Why would a United States Representative want to undermine the effectiveness of our military? Simple: Filner is a typical leftist. He has been trying to weaken America’s independence and security for years. He routinely votes against military appropriations bills. He voted against the bill authorizing President Bush to use force to disarm Iraq, and co-sponsored legislation to remove that authority. He tried for years to remove the sanctions against Saddam Hussein (without compliance with U.N. mandates), earning him the Capitol Hill nickname “Baghdad Bob.”
Filner told students in San Marcos (including the sons and daughters of deployed Marines) that the liberation of Iraq diminishes America’s “moral authority” in the world. That view echoes the principles of the Democratic Socialists of America. Finler is a member, of course. According to the DSA website, “the United States is engaged in a long-term policy of imperial overreach” and must be restrained through a massive reduction in U.S. military spending and submission to “new international regulatory bodies” with “multinational armed forces.” With Congressmen like Filner, who needs the French?
What is needed instead is immediate action by Congress to exempt, on national security grounds, our bombing ranges, military bases, and other training areas from all external environmental regulation–especially habitat protection. Further, President Bush should declare that Puerto Rico was our last surrender: “There will be no more Vieques’.”
On September 11, 2001, foreign terrorists murdered 3,000 of our fellow citizens in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Since then, we have fought two major military conflicts, overthrowing hostile regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our armed forces have hunted down, killed, or captured hundreds of terrorists around the globe, thwarting their murderous schemes. In these dangerous times, our troops must be allowed to train for battle without socialists obstructing them at every turn. American lives, both civilian and military, are at stake!