Training, Environment Needs not Mutually Exclusive, DoD Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2002 A flight from Los Angeles to San Diego at night is a graphic example of the problems facing the military as it trains for war.
"You leave Los Angeles and below, you see a blanket of lights," said Ray DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment. "As you approach San Diego, you see the same blanket of lights. But right in the middle of all these lights is a 17-mile stretch of darkness that is Camp Pendleton."
The lights, DuBois said, go right up to the fence line of the Marine Corps base -- one of the Corps' most important training facilities.
The camp is undeveloped and is the place where Marines train to ensure they are ready for war. It is also the home of a number of endangered species crowded out of the surrounding area by suburban development.
The simple fact is that the American military needs realistic training in order to fight and win America's wars, DuBois said. Defense officials said that simulation and models can help, but there is no way to simulate the feeling of riding through the surf on a landing craft, air- cushioned vessel, or to experience just what the recoil of the main gun on an Abrams tank is like, or the adrenaline rush you feel when the warble comes in your ears after a surface-to-air missile radar locks on.
For years, the mantra in the military has been "train like you fight." The results of this philosophy were seen during Desert Storm and are currently on display in Afghanistan, said DuBois.
Yet encroachment problems and environmental restrictions are chipping away at realistic training. American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are becoming less ready, and that makes them vulnerable, DuBois said.
The problem did not develop overnight. During World War II, the United States built a large number of isolated installations to train the 10-million-man armed forces. After the war, the U.S. military, with worldwide responsibilities, continued training at these isolated bases.
The problem is the isolation didn't last, DuBois said. Sierra Vista, Ariz., outside Fort Huachuca, has grown. San Diego and Los Angeles have essentially "met," forming a megalopolis in Southern California. Ranges and training areas on land and at sea are becoming the last refuge of many species that are being crowded out of their natural range. The problems are not limited to endangered species. Airspace management, competition for the electronic spectrum and just plain urban density plague installations, he said.
But it is the Endangered Species Act that has generated the interest. Overall, the Defense Department manages 25 million acres on more than 425 military installations in the United States. This land provides habitat for about 300 species listed as threatened or endangered.
The department has been a good steward of the environment, DuBois said. Between 1991 and 2001, the department spent about $48 billion on environmental programs. Each fort, base, camp or installation must have an integrated natural resources management plan.
The INRMP process looks at the ecosystem covered by the installation. It takes under consideration the needs of any endangered or threatened species and the needs of the military to provide realistic training.
DuBois said that scientists agree the integrated natural resources management plan is a far superior tool for species management than the Endangered Species Act. The INRMP lies at the heart of legislation DoD is asking Congress to pass.
The department wants to use the integrated management plan rather than have areas covered by the Endangered Species Act. Camp Pendleton, again, is an example of the problems that designation of an area as "critical habitat" causes the military.
"During the Clinton administration, groups filed a lawsuit to propose that 60 percent of Camp Pendleton as critical habitat for the endangered California gnat-catcher (bird)," he said. "This designation, coupled with existing restrictions at Camp Pendleton, ... would have basically rendered Camp Pendleton unusable for realistic combat training."
The Clinton administration realized what this would mean for the Marines based there and refused. Groups again sued. "Our proposal would protect the Clinton administration's decision not to designate further critical habitat," DuBois said.
Instead, the revision would allow DoD to use INRMPs "to protect all biodiversity interests on military reservations," he said. "This allows us to intelligently manage our properties so they support endangered species but also so it allows the military to train effectively." The change would make then designation of critical habitats on DoD lands unnecessary.
The Defense Department is also asking for a narrowly defined revision to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, DuBois. Right now, carrier battle groups in the Pacific going to the Arabian Sea to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom have nowhere to train. This is because of a March 2002 court decision saying the Navy must have a permit for incidental takes of migratory birds on their bombing range at Farallon de Medinilla near Guam.
The Washington D.C. Circuit Court heard the case. The court has jurisdiction over all DoD activities. The court's decision puts at risk military aviation, military telecommunications and live-fire training nationwide. The legislation asks that the status quo that has existed since 1918 return, said Defense officials.
"Our top priority is the readiness of our armed forces," DuBois said. "But this does not mean we ignore our environmental responsibilities. These narrowly defined changes give the department the flexibility it needs to maintain a ready force and remain good stewards of the public lands we use."