NATO Exerise in New Mexico?

Message posted by Jose on June 06, 2001 at 1:10:04 PST:

Michael Shinabery
Wednesday, June 6, 2001

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. - They come to New Mexico every year to play war.
This year, however, ranchers fear that along with troops and equipment (called materiel) at Roving Sands 2001, they could bring the bug other countries are already at war with: the virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease.

"If it were anyone else besides a NATO outfit, it would have already been shut down or postponed," said rancher Bob Jones. "Every country but Germany has [the disease] that is coming for Roving Sands."

New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Frank Dubois' concerns are similar. "I wonder what would have occurred if the circumstances had been reversed," Dubois said. "If we had foot-and-mouth disease in the United States and they wanted to do a NATO exercise in Europe, how would they have treated our troops?"

Up to 20,000 soldiers the majority U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy forces will participate in the 10th annual Roving Sands June 15-24. The Texas and New Mexico operations are under the purview of Fort Bliss in El Paso, with major command centers in Louisiana, Florida and Virginia. Much of the desert territory where ground maneuvers take place, however, is in Otero County.

The concern is with how the virus is transported in dirt, which can be attached to equipment and even shoes. Cleaning and sanitizing is required. According to Fort Bliss public affairs official Jean Offutt, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials "cleared 16 rail cars carrying German equipment for transport from Beaumont, Texas, to El Paso." She said the equipment was reinspected in El Paso by USDA and released more than a week ago.

"All of the equipment here was cleared," said Offutt, then "downloaded" beginning May 29. "The German commander ... told me the equipment they did bring in will not be going into the field. All of the equipment they need in the field to do their firing mission will come from Fort Bliss assets, or the German school here."

A recent regional story, however, reported that German equipment in questionable condition was brought through Canada. "German equipment is not coming from Canada," Offutt said. "Whatever was reported, or whatever was seen, I have no idea what it was or is." She suggested those concerned should "check with the railroad."

Whatever that equipment was, Dubois said there have been eyewitnesses to its being transported. "I talked to a guy in Colorado," he said. "He watched 10 different trainloads of German equipment go right by his place."

Dubois called such problems "frustrating to deal with." He felt the federal government, "given all of the controversy over this, would at least [have] had the courtesy to notify the state animal health officials" where materiel was transported.

"I think that this whole thing has been mishandled by the federal government and by the NATO countries," Dubois said. "They first tried to bring equipment and materiel from England and from other countries where hoof-and-mouth was prevalent."

According to Dubois, questionable materiel was rejected at a Texas port of call after allegedly being found clean overseas. "USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) put out a release that all of this equipment has been precleared in Germany, and then it gets to the port in Beaumont and one half of the equipment is rejected there - by APHIS," Dubois said.

He said rumors had the rejected equipment being rerouted through Canada, but he confirmed that particular shipment went back overseas. "Bob Accord of APHIS told me [Thursday] that all of the equipment was off-loaded in Cruxhaven, Germany, on May 30," Dubois said.

While the German air force (GAF) at Holloman Air Force Base will fly eight Tornado fighters, those jets pose "no threat," said Holloman Chief of Media Relations Robert Pepper. Those aircraft, he said, are already on base as part of the Flying Training Center. "Every precaution is being exercised," Pepper said.

Other than the German equipment, Offutt said, "no other equipment [was] coming in from any other foreign country." In troop count, she said 40 soldiers would arrive from the United Kingdom. She also listed four to five Canadian observers, as well as "visitors" from 18 other countries including Australia, Chile, Egypt, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudia Arabia and Qatar. The exact number of participants will not be firmed up, however, until the exercise begins.

If foot-and-mouth disease were found in Otero County, it could end the century-old beef industry. If spread outside the county's boundaries, Jones said, "it would eventually wipe out the entire U.S. beef industry."

Government officials in other countries have killed their livestock to slow the spread, resulting in losses of millions of dollars. Jones termed America's beef industry as the "only clean beef producer in the world."

Otero County producers are already under attack from activists such as Forest Guardians in Santa Fe. The group has at least half a dozen pending lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service to reduce cattle grazing on public lands.

A foot-and-mouth outbreak, Jones said, would make animal rights groups happy. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' Ingrid Newkirk is on record as saying she would welcome the disease as a means to shutting off meat to meat eaters.

Stringent Cleanliness Demanded of Equipment

Four of the world's seven continents have foot-and-mouth disease, which means when U.S. military equipment deploys and returns home, inspection and sanitization is mandated.

Hallie Pickhardt of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said cleaning military equipment is a two-step process. "We inspect military equipment on a regular basis," she said.

All military equipment entering the U.S. must be free of soil, dirt and manure. "These materials can carry the ... disease virus," she said. While APHIS does not require a specific way of cleaning, removal methods include steam cleaning, high-pressure washing and disinfecting.

"First," she said, "equipment is precleared in the country of origin - meaning it is thoroughly cleaned and inspected prior to departure - and then upon arrival it is again inspected for cleanliness. Prior to any equipment being shipped to the United States [for Roving Sands], it was agreed that all dirty equipment would be refused entry and returned to the ship. In accordance with this agreement, some German equipment was refused entry because of dirt."

She said the United Kingdom and the Netherlands "will not be bringing any large military vehicles," but "will be bringing only portable manned equipment via aircraft."

Article by Michael Shinabery, Alamogordo Daily News. Article reprinted with permission of Alamogordo Daily News. Distribution of article made possible by Paragon Foundation, 1-877-847-3443.


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