The U.S. Army Pacific is proposing an up-to-$100,000 upgrade to the CNMI Department of Public Safety’s firing range on Saipan so that soldiers can get their Army weapons qualification on island instead of sending them to Hawaii or Guam. In exchange, DPS and other local and federal law enforcement agencies can use the Army Reserve’s training facilities.
The local government has yet to warm up to the idea over worries that this could be linked to, among other things, military plans to expand live-fire training in the Marianas, including on Tinian and Pagan.
Jerry Cox, chief of training support system for the U.S. Army Pacific, said yesterday that they are trying to make the CNMI government understand that the proposal is specific to DPS’ small arms range “and nothing else.” He said this proposal does not have anything to do with other military ventures or plans in the CNMI.
“We are not trying to generate a lease or control the land. We want the Police Department to control the land like they always have and we just want to be able to use it,” Cox said in an interview at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Puerto Rico yesterday afternoon.
Cox and others from Fort Shafter in Hawaii invited CNMI lawmakers and other Cabinet members to see and use some of the Reserve Center’s training equipment and facilities, which local enforcement personnel can also use for their training.
“So we decided to invite everybody out here, show them what assets we have that they can utilize and hopes that in the spirit of open cooperation, very open honesty, thus we want to be able to fix this range so our soldiers can qualify and at the same time we want to offer up some of the training assets that we have here on the island that will enhance the police department and your SWAT teams and other people…” Cox said.
Reps. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), Roman Benavente (Ind-Saipan), Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), and Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan), along with Public Works Secretary Martin Sablan, were at the Reserve Center yesterday to see the training facility.
Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, when sought for comment yesterday, confirmed that he met with the U.S. Army Pacific representatives on Tuesday on behalf of the Inos administration “but they have yet to formally submit proposal to the administration.”
Cox said their proposal is for USARPAC to transform the DPS firing range into one that meets U.S. Army standard “for everyone’s benefit.”
Instead of sending soldiers in the CNMI to Guam or Hawaii for the required regular weapons qualification, it would be more cost-effective to do this on Saipan using an enhanced DPS firing range, he said.
“Our concern is only getting the Reserves here the qualifications range to qualify. As we researched this, we found out that the police force does a lot of stuff that our soldiers do, just a different type of capacity. So if we’re going to utilize their range, we thought it would only be fair if they get to utilize our EST, our MOUT site… It’s like a joint venture,” Cox said.
He was referring to EST 2000, a virtual small arms engagement skills training system. MOUT stands for “military operations in urban terrain.”
On the U.S. Army’s side, they would be able to recoup the estimated $100,000 investment in enhancing the DPS firing range within the year, compared to sending 100 soldiers, for example, to Hawaii for $1,000 air fare each.
This does not count the time that soldiers are away from their families or home.
Cox said there is already an existing memorandum of agreement between the Army Reserve and DPS that allows the former to use the latter’s firing range.
But Cox said agencies have changed some of the rules, including making a “more binding” agreement that requires a license or permit that would allow soldiers to use the firing range a guaranteed number of days in a year.
“Once we have that, then I’m allowed to spend the dollars to buy the targets and level the facilities, dig in the target pits and enhance the range…which is why we’re trying to get the support from all the legislators,” he said.