Posted on Sat, May. 08, 2004


New military unit moves onto base in Homestead



Members of a Special Operations group completed a relocation from Puerto Rico to a portion of the Homestead Air Reserve Base, bringing hope to local officials.


An elite U.S. military unit opened its new home with flair Friday, while South Miami-Dade officials hailed the troops as possible saviors for the Homestead Air Reserve Base.


Decked out in their best camouflage, members of Special Operations Command South -- soldiers, Navy SEALS and pilots -- claimed some turf at the base as their own, completing a move from the Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico.


The unit, part of the U.S. Southern Command, is bringing about 150 military and civilian families to South Florida -- raising hope among state and local leaders that the Homestead base won't be targeted in next year's round of closures.


''You made the right decision,'' Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren told military leaders Friday, ``because the people of Homestead and deep South Dade have a real love for the base.''


The base celebrated its new addition with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at which about 200 guests got a peek at some special equipment -- sniper guns, special boats and a Hummer bristling with guns.


The unit, commanded by Brig. Gen. Savaltore Cambria, conducts about 397 missions yearly throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, responding to terrorism, drugs and other pressing concerns.


It spearheaded the U.S. force sent to Haiti during the recent crisis.


The move to Homestead went smoothly, said Master Sgt. Freddy Crespo, and finding homes was easy.


''There's a lot of developments around [South Dade],'' Crespo said. ``It seems like we all have found a home relatively quickly.''


The rest of the unit, a handful of personnel, Crespo said, are scheduled to arrive within a week. Some wives and children are still in Puerto Rico, waiting for the school year to end, he said.


Though the new troops aren't expected to make a huge economic bang, the relocation will likely open up some new jobs.


''Every time there's a military base opening another branch of command, there's always opportunity for employment in the area,'' Crespo said.


The base's location at the southern tip of the United States and its proximity to Southcom contributed to the decision to base the special operations group there, said Southcom commander Gen. James Hill. ''Moving to Homestead makes perfect sense,'' he said.