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Adm. Thomas Moorer, who once commanded U.S. naval forces worldwide, is dismayed at the Bush Administration’s apparent readiness to abandon its unique training facility on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by May 2003.

Moorer was commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, then chief of naval operations from 1967 to 1969. He served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1970 to 1974.

Moorer, who trained at Vieques during his 40-year career as a naval aviator, said, “I’m very familiar with what goes on down there. It is to coordinate training between aircraft and amphibious forces and the surface ships that do the bombardment.” He compared the triad exercise scenario to “a football team running signal practice right before the game.”

The training, which has taken place on Vieques since World War II, benefits Puerto Rico as well as the Navy and Marines, said Moorer. He suggested that the commonwealth was ungrateful for the longtime U.S. security blanket under which it has prospered. “It irks the hell out of me,” he said of critics of the American presence, because “they always want something. … It’s a very selfish position. … They want everything they can get; they want welfare, they want no taxes.”

“The least Puerto Rico can do,” he said, “is contribute that space on Vieques.”

“My feeling,” Moorer added, “is that they should contribute something to their security – not just complain if there’s any impact on what they consider day-to-day living.” One such impact, which helped launch the current spate of anti-U.S. demonstrations, was the accidental death of a civilian security guard in 1999.

However, Moorer predicted that “if they deny this training to the sailors and the U.S. gets into a war in Iran or Iraq or what-have-you, then you’re going to have not one, but … several young men killed that didn’t have a chance to train before they got [to the war zone].”

In this, the former Joint Chiefs’ chairman echoed Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Armed Forces Committee’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. In a recent interview with Human Events, Inhofe tied the March deaths of several U.S. service personnel in Kuwait to the postponement of live-ordnance training on Vieques.

However, Navy press spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Cutler rejected any such connection.

On the recent arrests of members of Congress and other V.I.P. opponents of Navy training on Vieques, Moorer said, laughing, “Well, I’ve given up on these congressmen. I don’t know that there’s much you can do about some of them.”

Navy Spokesman Cutler conceded that after two years of looking for a replacement for Vieques, the Navy has not found a “direct one-for-one” facility that could fulfill its function.

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