US Grounds Saudi Pilots, Halts Military Training after Pensacola Shooting


11 December, 2019

On Tuesday, the United States Department of Defense announced it was halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the U.S. until further notice.

The announcement came less than a week after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people at a U.S. Naval Air Base in Pensacola, Florida.

The department's decision will have far-reaching effects on visiting Saudi military personnel, including grounding more than 300 Saudi Arabian flight students.

The move also affects all other Saudi military training programs, except classroom training. Such coursework, which includes English language classes, will continue.

Gary Yetter, a retired Navy officer who now owns a brewery near Naval Air Station Pensacola, talks about the importance of the base to the area, December 9, 2019, in Pensacola, Florida.
Gary Yetter, a retired Navy officer who now owns a brewery near Naval Air Station Pensacola, talks about the importance of the base to the area, December 9, 2019, in Pensacola, Florida.

Many U.S. military bases provide an economic engine for the communities in which they operate. But the Navy has a special relationship with the city of Pensacola that is built on hundreds of years of history. A large number of the 52,000 people who live in the Pensacola area are people who first came to the city because of the naval base.

Gary Yetter spent 21 years in the Navy and used to call the northwestern state of Washington his home. The Navy brought him to Pensacola twice, and after retiring he made it his home for good. He worked part-time at the base in a non-military position, and eventually opened a beer-making business.

"Everybody says, ‘Are you from Pensacola?' and most people say, ‘No, I'm from somewhere else.' But we all move here eventually," said Yetter.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan first came to Pensacola as a member of the Air Force, and returned to the city when he retired.

Morgan recently met with reporters shortly after the shooting last Friday. During that press conference, he noted that the Pensacola community is hurt because it opens its heart and homes to foreign nationals who train at the base.

"We opened our country to the allied officers, we opened our hearts. Many of the folks that surround our military base...do sponsorships, where they sponsor officers into their homes to do a cultural exchange," Morgan said. "You should have walked the crime scene with us, and you'd understand the anger in this community right now."

The military history of the area dates back to 1698, when Spain built a fort in the same area where the American base is now. French forces destroyed the Spanish fort in 1719. The Spanish later built Fort San Carlos de Barrancas in 1797 and some of that structure is still on the current base. U.S. President John Quincy Adams ordered the establishment of a Navy yard on the land and building began in 1826. Flight training at the base began in the years before the U.S. entered World War I.

Pensacola takes a lot of pride in its military base. One local school is even named for the highly-skilled Blue Angels flying team based there. A Blue Angels jet is permanently positioned over the city's visitor welcome center, made to look like it is flying above the building.

After the attack, the community went into action. The day of the shooting, people lined up to give blood at a local blood donation center. The next day people continued to come in to donate blood as their way to try to help.

"It's about the least I can do," said Navy Ensign Kyle Hering, who has been stationed at the base for about a year. "There's not really much else I can do in my position except give blood and try to provide comfort...Pensacola is really welcoming to all the Navy folks, and it's really hard when we have our brothers and sisters get shot and killed."

I'm Pete Musto.

The Reuters news agency and The Associated Press reported on this story. Pete Musto adapted these materials for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

further adj. more or additional

noticen. information that tells you or warns you about something that is going to happen

beern. an alcoholic drink made from malt and flavored with hops

countyn. an area of a state or country that is larger than a city and has its own government to deal with local matters

sheriffn. an elected official who is in charge of enforcing the law in a county or town of the U.S.

sponsorship(s) – n. an agreement in which someone takes responsibility for someone or something

fortn. a strong building or group of buildings where soldiers live

priden. a feeling of happiness that you get when you or someone you know does something good or difficult

comfortn. a state or feeling of being less worried, upset, or frightened during a time of trouble or emotional pain

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