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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release No: 292-99
June 11, 1999

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE ANNOUNCES VIEQUES INITIATIVES

Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig took steps today to implement a directive by President Clinton to reconcile national security needs with the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico about operations at that portion of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility (AFWTF) on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Clinton yesterday sent Cohen a letter directing the creation of a special panel to address issues pertaining to the utilization of the AFWTF in Vieques. The creation of such a panel was requested by Puerto Rico's governor and congressman. It follows the tragic, accidental death of a Navy AFWTF security guard on April 19 at the facility.

Cohen has directed the formation of the four-person panel that would: determine the need for the Vieques range and the continued use of live ordnance there; explore whether there are viable alternative locations; study environmental, health and economic impacts on the island; consider Puerto Rican views; and send its own recommendation to Cohen. The panel has been asked to complete its work in August.

The special panel will be composed of a chairman and three members: Frank Rush, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy (chairman); Rep. Lee Hamilton, former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee; retired Marine Corps Gen. Richard Neal, former assistant Marine Corps commandant; and retired Navy Vice Adm. Diego Hernandez, former commander, Third Fleet.

In order to support the special panel with a comprehensive and detailed analysis, Danzig has also tasked a study to provide inputs for its review. He has directed the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jay L. Johnson, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, to undertake a thorough review and assessment of the AFWTF at Vieques, Puerto Rico. The study will be led by Commander, Second Fleet, Navy Vice Adm. William J. Fallon and Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Atlantic, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Peter Pace and will examine the national security reasons for the Department of the Navy's use of the Vieques range. The review will address whether operations at Vieques should continue and if alternative sites for these operations exist. If it determines that operations are warranted, the review will look at possible modifications to operations to lessen the impact on the people of Vieques, including constraining or eliminating live fire, and whether non-U.S. forces and other U.S. military services should continue to operate at Vieques. If such a determination is made, the review will also look at possible safety improvements that could be made to operations at Vieques. Danzig will forward the results of the Fallon-Pace assessment and his comments to the special panel by early July.

Danzig also:

Directed a cessation of the use of all live and inert ordnance at Vieques during the period of the comprehensive review. The cessation is effective immediately.

Directed the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy (Conversion and Redevelopment) to suggest ways to improve the Department of the Navy's fulfillment of the 1983 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government of Puerto Rico on operations at and assistance to Vieques. The 1983 MOU committed the Department of the Navy to strive to better the welfare of those who reside on Vieques by working with commonwealth agencies and groups to seek grants, start-up funds and other financial assistance from federal agencies to support economic development on the island.

The Department of Defense, and the Navy and Marine Corps recognize the critical value of training effectively and responsibly in order to be combat ready to respond to current and future global crises. This tragic accident, the only fatality at the Vieques range since training began there in the 1940's, has provided an important occasion for a comprehensive review of our activities on the island.

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