As notified to the government of Puerto Rico, the Navy is proceeding with a short training exercise at the naval training range on Vieques by its forces en route to the Arabian Gulf. While there, our forces, along with those of our allies, will be conducting surface patrols and flying combat missions for the protection of vital American interests in that region.
The Department of Defense is committed to seeing that our men and women in uniform are properly trained to meet their missions. At the same time, the Department of Defense shares the concerns of all U.S. citizens including the citizens of Puerto Rico and the people of Vieques about the potential effects of training on the health and safety of our citizens and the environment. The Department of Defense will ensure that all military training conducted by its components is in full compliance with established federal law and regulation, and is protective of the environment and the health of local populations. In accordance with previous agreements, the Navy will not be using live ordnance for training; it will continue to support the health studies underway; and it is prepared to work with Governor Calderon and the government of Puerto Rico to ensure that the Clinton-Rossello agreement benefits the residents of Vieques, those who fish in the nearby waters, and the island's environment.
Further, the Navy will continue to examine alternative approaches to training that would permit it to reduce the need for Vieques to the absolute minimum necessary beyond May 2003.
As before, we look forward to the continued cooperation of the people and government of Puerto Rico in providing adequate security for the Navy to conduct the training that is so critical for the safety and proficiency of our armed forces. For the time being, the effectiveness of our deployed naval forces and the safety of our men and women in uniform depend on the continued limited use of the Vieques naval training range.