Vieques Decison Dangerous Says Retired Seabee Commander

Even though he's retired, Lou Marchette continues to pay close attention to news reports about the ongoing conflict in Vieques. The Navy started military training there 60 years ago, but many Puerto Ricans don't want them there.

One guard was killed during a training exercise, and other people claim the bombing is hazardous to their health. Marchette says training in Vieques is crucial for military readiness.

"It allows the Navy to train in an environment that allows all of the type of training that's required to come together in one exercise--an amphibious assault, which allows them to do from the air to the ground, from the air to the air, from a ground assault with Marines, if necessary," Marchette explained.

Marchette admits part of the problem is the Navy's fault. He says they haven't done enough to integrate the military into the local community.

"The range doesn't have this local community that gets out and is part of the church, doesn't have, a part of the schools and so, we did not go out and do extra to make sure we keep that community cut in," Marchette said.

But, he says the Navy was committed to improving the situation and he thinks relations between the military and the Puerto Ricans could have improved. He's afraid of the precedent this decision will set.

"If some local group says hey, we just don't like the noise and they're able to shut down a national training range because of local pressure, then I think that this precedence is very, very dangerous," Marchette said.

President Bush has said he wants the bombings to end by 2003, but Marchette says he's not sure that will actually happen. He says it's a passionate issue for both sides and he expects negotiations will continue.