Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Illegal immigrants blocking Marine training.

Another problem with porous borders:
Marines getting ready for combat in Iraq or Afghanistan are having their training time shortened because hordes of illegal aliens from Mexico are wandering onto their firing ranges in Arizona while crossing the border illegally.

According to the Boston Globe, the commanding officers of the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona explained that virtually every Marine squadron headed to Iraq or Afghanistan receives combat training at the station, which for nearly 40 miles touches the U.S.-Mexico border in the southwestern corner of Arizona.

Colonel James J. Cooney, the base's commanding officer, told the Globe that since July 2004, the training range has been shut down more than 500 times because of [illegal] immigrants spotted on the range, causing a loss of more than 1,100 training hours.

"We're getting overrun here. Any moment we take away from a Marine's experience base could cost him his life in combat," Cooney said.

He added that his 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. He said that 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," Cooney said. "It's completely counterproductive to our whole training operation.

"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."

The Globe reported that 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.

So far the Marines said there have been no deaths of immigrants in the training exercises.

"My overall concern is that we'd have an unfortunate incident out there where we'd inadvertently harm an illegal entrant that we did not spot or see, and that in turn would cause a moratorium on training until we sorted out what exactly happened," said Cooney.

And it's not just the Marines having the problem. According to the Globe one Army base and another the Air Force base, 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 Yuma Proving Ground, one of the largest military installations in the Western world which constantly conducts 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," Wullenjohn told the Globe. "The illegal immigrant issue is becoming a bigger problem all the time."

The Air Force told the Globe 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.

There is the additional concern that foreign terrorists could cross the Mexican border and infiltrate the Arizona bases to conduct intelligence gathering or commit acts of sabotage.

"The potential exists, and that is a key reason we are vigilant about securing our training ranges," Col. Cooney told the Globe.

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