ROOSEVELT ROADS, Puerto Rico (NNS) -- With the cessation of exercises on the Vieques Naval Training Range, the primary facilities on Roosevelt Roads directly related to that training have been ordered to disestablish.
The Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility (AFWTF) and Fleet Composite Squadron (VC) 8 received disestablishment orders from Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet earlier this year.
Camp Garcia, Vieques, named after Marine Corps Private 1st Class Fernando Garcia, a Puerto Rican Medal of Honor recipient during the Korean War, is scheduled to close May 1. Camp Garcia had hosted the Atlantic Fleet's Composite Training Unit Exercises and served as the premiere training area for the Atlantic Fleet for more than 60 years.
At the request of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Naval Station Roosevelt Roads (NSRR) personnel and Vieques community volunteers are currently dismantling some of the camp's temporary facilities. Upon closing, Camp Garcia will be transferred from the Department of Defense to the Department of the Interior, which will use the land as a wildlife refuge. The former impact area will be designated as a wilderness area. The building materials salvaged from the camp are being donated to the municipality of Vieques.
AFWTF, the command in charge of organizing and conducting the training exercises in Vieques, is set to disestablish by Sept. 30.
"We are in the process of either turning over facilities to other government agencies, or sending our equipment to be used at other training ranges," said Cmdr. Dale Batey, AFTWF executive officer.
Batey said that, even with the disestablishment, morale at AFWTF remains high and a sense of purpose strong.
"The men and women who have worked here over the years always knew what they were doing was very important," Batey said. "We have been responsible for training every ship, aircraft and submarine in the Atlantic Fleet to be ready for any mission since 1965. Now the mission is disestablishment, and we are performing that mission with the same sense of purpose."
David Velez, the technical director of AFWTF, knows as much as anyone about the mission of AFWTF. He's worked there for almost 40 years.
"I grew up here," Velez said. "I was in the first first-grade class at Roosevelt Roads. I've spent many years training the fleet, and I'm now working on helping my fellow workers find new jobs."
Velez said many of the people who work directly for him have already found new jobs at the training ranges in the States.
"Now, we're trying to help out everyone else who works here find new jobs," Velez said. "I was eligible to retire a couple of years ago, but I opted to stay. And now I'm staying until all of my people here are employed. When that happens, I'll be the happiest man in the world."
VC-8, which has been awarded the Battle Efficiency Award and Search-and-Rescue Award this year and is in the running for the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award, will also disestablish by Sept. 30, after more than 40 years of service.
"We've had quite a history and have lasted longer than many of the other squadrons in the fleet," said Cmdr. Tom McDonough, commanding officer of VC-8. "Now is just our time to move on."
VC-8 began as Guided-Missile Service Squadron 2 in July 1958. It then became Utility Squadron 8 in 1960, before assuming the present name in 1965. The squadron has been at NSRR since 1959.
Since 1970, VC-8 has conducted rescue and relief missions, and directly saved more than 140 lives and provided relief to thousands after numerous natural disasters, including Hurricanes Georges, Gilbert, Hortense and Hugo, and the volcanic eruption on the island of Montserrat.
"I, along with everyone who works here, am very proud of the tradition we've upheld," McDonough said. "It's the people who work here every day who can make or break a command; and our people from the officers' wardroom, chiefs mess and first classes on down have made us what we are. We are better now than we've ever been, and I'm proud to serve here."
VC-8's primary role is to support the fleet under the operational control of AFWTF. According to McDonough, the squadron has provided training to every Atlantic battle group before their deployments.
"We have touched every single battle group in the Atlantic Fleet for more than 40 years. VC-8's time has come, but this squadron will never be forgotten," McDonough said.
While the more than 300 Sailors stationed with VC-8 and AFWTF will either find a new duty station or finish out their tours at NSRR, the squadron's aircraft will move on to serve a whole new purpose.
Disestablishment ceremonies for AFWTF and VC-8 are scheduled for later this year.
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