Archive for Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Armed forces review policy on civilian access

April 25, 2001


— Civilians can still ride in an Army tank, fly in an Air Force fighter or fire a Marine's M-16 rifle.

The Pentagon barred civilians from being at the controls of military equipment in certain situations after the fatal collision between the Navy submarine USS Greenville and a Japanese fishing vessel. But aside from that, the Pentagon isn't expected to substantially change the popular guest programs considered vital to good community relations.

"It keeps Americans aware of the people who sign up to go in harm's way and serve their country," Celia Hoke, director of the Pentagon's community relations program, said Tuesday.

"People have said it's all about funding," said Navy spokeswoman Cmdr. Cate Mueller of the criticism that the Greeneville trip was aimed at rewarding financial donors.

"It's also about hearts and minds about people connecting with and knowing about their military."

Sixteen civilians were aboard the Greenville when the submarine rammed the Ehime Maru, a fishery training vessel for high school students, during a surfacing drill Feb. 9 in waters off Hawaii. The crash killed nine people four teen-agers, two teachers and three crewmen.

Navy officials have acknowledged that the surfacing demonstration was done only for the benefit of civilians aboard, three of whom were seated at the sub's controls at the time.

In reprimanding but deciding against a court-martial for the Greeneville's skipper Monday, the Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Thomas Fargo, said changes are needed in the community-relations program that led to the civilians being on board the Greenville.

The Pacific Fleet had 21 at-sea tours for a total of 307 guests on fast-attack submarines like the Greeneville last year, an average of 15 guests per trip, according to Navy estimates.

Three times as many went to sea on bigger ballistic-missile submarines. Including carriers and other surface ships, the Pacific Fleet had a total of 7,836 guests on 158 trips last year, down from 11,440 guests on 233 trips in 1999.

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