Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Fixing wagons

Strom Thurmond is gone, and it’s not likely he’ll ever be forgotten.

Freshman Rep. J. Gresham Barrett, South Carolina Republican, has introduced legislation to name the new Capitol Visitor Center after the legendary senator, who was 100 years old and barely into retirement when presented his final reward on June 26.

“Senator Thurmond’s middle name was ‘constituent service,’ and it seems only fitting that we name the new visitor center after the nation’s most dedicated and longest-serving elected official,” Mr. Barrett says.

The one thing the freshman heard repeatedly at Mr. Thurmond’s funeral was that “if someone had a problem, the first person they called was Senator Thurmond and they never had to call anyone else.”

And when Mr. Thurmond teamed up with longtime colleague Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, the two really pulled some strings.

Like when Hurricane Hugo struck their state, and the two senators traveled home to view the tremendous destruction to homes and businesses. But owing to lack of electricity and a means of communicating, Mr. Hollings decided he could do more by being in Washington, and flew back that evening.

“I got on the phone to FEMA, and I outlined the needs for generators, food, water, tents,” Mr. Hollings recalled, and Robert Morris, then acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, “said, ‘Senator, you don’t understand the procedure.’

“I said, ‘What procedure?’

“He says, ‘You know you are supposed to get the mayor to advertise, and if he can’t find two contractors to do the job, to satisfy the needs, then he bucks the request up to the governor and the governor does a similar thing. He surveys and gets two refusals, and then they come to Washington.’

“I said, ‘Are you serious?’

“He said, ‘Of course.’

“I said, ‘You are crazy,’ and I hung up and called [Marine Corps Commandant General Alfred Gray Jr.], who was out at the time on the Army Navy golf course. I said, ‘General, the ox is in the ditch,’ and I outlined it. He said, ‘Don’t worry.’”

Within 36 hours, Mr. Hollings returned to South Carolina, and already hard at work was Gen. Gray’s second-in-command, who had made the trip from the Quantico Marine Corps Base outside Washington.

“He motioned to me to be rather quiet,” Mr. Hollings said. “I said, ‘What is the matter?’ He said, ‘They have a procedure where I am not supposed to be helping, but it is obvious that the general called me.’”

Military animals

The president of the Navy League of the United States has warned every member of Congress this week that “critical defense development and training programs are being delayed or curtailed as our nation approaches a turning point in the war on terrorism.”

And the problem is?

“The Navy and Marine Corps are besieged by overzealous environmentalists that have employed vaguely written regulations to delay or cancel key weapon development programs, severely reduce the size of usable military-training areas and diminish the opportunities for realistic training,” the league’s president, Sheila M. McNeill, tells Congress.

She cites, for starters, a six-year delay of deployment of an advanced sonar system because of unproved assertions that it would damage marine mammal populations. (The system would improve substantially the Navy’s ability to detect quiet, diesel-electric submarines deployed by North Korea and Iran.)

In addition, only a mile of the 17-mile beach at Camp Pendleton, Calif., is available to practice amphibious landings, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to designate an additional 56 percent of the camp off-limits to military training, labeling it critical wildlife habitat. Same story for 65 percent of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.

It gets worse. Uncle Sam’s green soldiers proposed in October to designate large tracts of military property on Guam off-limits to protect such endangered species as the Mariana fruit bat and the Micronesian kingfisher, even though neither of the species lives on military land on Guam.

Last year, Navy Adm. Walter F. Doran, commander of the Pacific Fleet, said there is a “grievous imbalance between our need to protect our environment and our national security,” warning that “in this time of war, vital Navy training is being delayed, curtailed and canceled.”

The league’s president calls the Navy and Marines “excellent” environmental stewards, noting that 130 full-time natural-resources specialists protect about 185 threatened and endangered species on military bases.

Word from Nome

We wrote yesterday that a book by a Washington think tank “scholar” being made into a major Hollywood film could be a Beltway first.

“An earlier think tank scholar had a book made into a major motion picture,” writes Graham G. Storey, executive director of the Nome Chamber of Commerce in Nome, Alaska. “While working for the U.S. Naval Institute, Tom Clancy wrote ‘The Hunt for Red October,’ and four years later it was made into a rather ho-hum submarine picture by Paramount Studios, using the sub I was serving on at the time.”

• John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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