Chairman Inhofe, I would like to preface my remarks by expressing my personal appreciation -- and, I am sure, that of all the men and women who wear our Nation's uniform -- for your extraordinary leadership on issues bearing on their readiness for combat.
I can think of no one who has devoted himself more tirelessly and more courageously than you have to tackling decisions that may, at some point, determine whether those who serve have been properly trained. You do so, of course, because you appreciate that the difference can seem inconsequential at the time the training takes place. But it can prove determinative -- even literally a matter of life and death -- in combat situations.
You deserve particular recognition for your efforts to ensure that Atlantic-based U.S. forces continue to be able to and experience as part of their training the closest thing to actual combat conditions: large-scale, live-fire combined arms exercises. It is nothing less than a travesty that shortsighted political considerations have been allowed to trump longstanding -- and abiding -- national security requirements, denying the American military future use of its only facility in the Atlantic dedicated to this purpose: the island of Vieques.
Today, as we witness American servicemen and women risking their lives for our safety and security, it is simply unfathomable that we would stint in any way on assuring theirs.
The harrowing experiences being televised hourly from the battlefields of Iraq; the sorts of threats our troops are encountering there, in Afghanistan and other theaters of the war on terror; the manifest need for adaptability in the face of unexpected forms of enemy action -- all underscore the necessity of affording the maximum latitude to conduct realistic training to those charged with preparing our troops for war.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, I had the privilege of working early in my career for the late Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington State. In his capacity as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Scoop was the principal author of, and prime-mover behind, the Environmental Protection Act and numerous other legislative initiatives aimed at protecting our habitat.
Like you, Scoop was also committed to the national security of the United States. I believe he would be horrified at the situation that confronts our military today as a result of environmental legislation, regulations and judicial rulings run amok. In fact, I am confident that-- were Senator Jackson still with us -- he would be joining you in supporting at least the modest redress the Defense Department seeks in the form of the proposed “2003 Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative” now before the Congress.
If anything, I would respectfully suggest that far more relief is needed than that called for in these minimalist proposals.
Especially in time of war, we should return the training ranges and facilities our government and people have dedicated to the military's use to their fullest necessary utilization. By failing to do so, we are clearly subordinating national security to what is -- under present and foreseeable circumstances -- an excessive, and currently insupportable, regard for the habitats of certain endangered species.
One of our military's finest leaders, Lieutenant General Edward Hanlon, Jr. USMC, spoke for all those in uniform when he testified in May 2001 before the House Armed Services Committee in his capacity at the time as the Commanding General of Camp Pendleton:
...Our ability to train effectively is being slowly eroded by encroachment on many fronts. Urbanization, increasing environmental restrictions, and increasing civilian demands for airspace, land, sea space, and radio frequencies threaten the long-term, sustained use of Marine Corps bases and ranges. Encroachment is a serious and growing challenge.
Solutions are possible -- we must achieve the necessary and right balance between military readiness, encroachment pressures, and stewardship responsibilities....
Mr. Chairman, I believe the “2003 Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative” does strike a balance. I fear, frankly, that it favors too much the status quo concerning environmental protection -- at the expense of military training and the consequent ability of our service personnel to survive and prevail in combat.
I hope that the Congress will, at an absolute minimum, provide the relief envisioned in this legislative initiative. I would urge the members of this Committee, however, to give serious consideration as well to further steps that can materially contribute to the realism and utility of our military training exercises -- and, therefore, to the likelihood that our loved ones in uniform will be able to conduct their missions safely and successfully.
I appreciate being afforded the opportunity to contribute to the Committee's deliberations on this important matter and look forward to responding to the members' questions.