Mexican Invaders Hinder US Military Training And Readiness
Virtually every Marine squadron headed to Iraq or Afghanistan receives combat training at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, which for nearly 40 miles touches the US-Mexico border in the southwestern corner of Arizona. The Border Patrol's focus in recent years on tightening the border in the eastern part of the state, where volunteer citizens this month have established their own observation posts, has pushed more undocumented immigrants westward.
Since July 2004, the training range has been shut down more than 500 times because of immigrants spotted on the range, causing a loss of more than 1,100 training hours, said Colonel James J. Cooney, the base's commanding officer.
''That's equivalent to almost 46 days of training. We're getting overrun here," he said in an interview. ''Any moment we take away from a Marine's experience base could cost him his life in combat."
Cooney said Marines intercepted more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants on the training range last year and, in the first three months of this year, more than 1,100. Base personnel detain the immigrants and call in Border Patrol agents to pick them up.
''I have to use Marines that aren't trained in that to do that, which puts me at a liability," said Cooney, a Boston College graduate. ''It's completely counterproductive to our whole training operation."
There has also been the issue of humanitarian concern. The border-jumpers might get hurt.
Another big concern, he said, is the potential danger to undocumented immigrants: ''We just don't want them to come here, because we're firing lasers, we're shooting machine guns, we're shooting 209-millimeter cannons, and we're dropping practice bombs, and we don't want to hurt anyone."
Last summer a Marine pilot dropped a practice bomb on a target and seconds later, a few feet away, a small group of illegal immigrants scrambled from underneath a bush and ran down the range. The near miss was caught on a training tape that Cooney has reviewed.
And the problem is not just confined to the Marines at this one base. It also hurts training at Army and Air Force bases near the border. Immigrants simply wander into – or are directed by smugglers into -- firing ranges where live ammunition and bombs are in use.
Two other bases in Arizona, one the Army's and another the Air Force's, have experienced similar problems.
At the Army Yuma Proving Ground, near the Marine Corps Air Station but about 30 miles north of the border, an increasing number of undocumented immigrants have invaded military space and disrupted training.
''The smugglers just drive them up the highway and dump them off, and these illegal immigrants stumble right onto our testing range," said Chuck Wullenjohn, spokesman for the Army base.
As one of the largest military installations in the Western world, the Army Yuma Proving Ground is constantly conducting tests for ground forces on artillery and ammunition, including tank rounds, mines, mortars, and helicopter guns.
''Having anyone on this range that doesn't belong here is extremely dangerous," said Wullenjohn. ''The illegal immigrant issue is becoming a bigger problem all the time."
The Air Force said it has had to interrupt exercises with F-16 pilots after undocumented immigrants were spotted on a bombing range east of Gila Bend, north of the border.
''In 2004 we suspended range operations 55 times for a net loss of 122 hours," said Jim Uken, director of the 56th Fighter Wing range management office.
We simply cannot and should not endanger the training and readiness of our men and women in uniform – not to mention our national security – in the name of protecting those who violate our borders and our laws. Maybe the solution is simple – don’t stop the training exercises. We’ve all seen the humorous signs that read “Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted”. Perhaps the time has come to post those around these training ranges in both English and Spanish, and then act accordingly.
If that sounds harsh, so be it.
Better a dead criminal than a dead soldier.