WASHINGTON — Civilians can still ride in an Army tank, fly in an Air Force fighter or fire a Marine's M-16 rifle.

The Pentagon barred civilians from being at the controls of military equipment in certain situations after the fatal collision between the Navy submarine USS Greeneville and a Japanese fishing vessel. But aside from that, the Pentagon isn't expected to substantially change the popular guest programs considered vital to good community relations.

"It keeps Americans aware of the people who sign up to go in harm's way and serve their country," said Celia Hoke, director of the Pentagon's community relations program.

"People have said it's all about funding," said Navy spokeswoman Cmdr. Cate Mueller of the criticism that the Greeneville trip was aimed at rewarding financial donors. "It's also about hearts and minds — about people connecting with and knowing about their military."

Navy officials have acknowledged that the surfacing demonstration was done only for the benefit of civilians aboard, three of whom were seated at the sub's controls at the time.

In reprimanding but deciding against a court-martial for the Greeneville's skipper Monday, the Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Thomas Fargo, said changes are needed in the community-relations program that led to the civilians being on board the Greeneville.

While he asserted that none of the civilians contributed to the collision, Fargo urged a review of the Navy program.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said this week that all the other services were also looking at refining rules for civilian programs. In February, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered civilians indefinitely barred from operating military equipment, including ships, aircraft and ground vehicles, "when such operation could cause, or reasonably be perceived as causing, an increased safety risk."

The Army, Air Force and Marines have essentially adopted that Rumsfeld moratorium as policy.

The Air Force says civilians can still ride in the second seat of an F-16 fighter, but they are not allowed to touch the panel in front of them as they were before. Civilians can also still fire weapons as long as they are not crew-operated weapons — those requiring more than one person to shoot.

"This moratorium is not designed to restrict civilian visitors from observing their military; it is designed to ensure their visits are conducted as safely as possible," Rumsfeld wrote in his memo, not mentioning the sub accident specifically.

The Pacific Fleet had 21 at-sea tours for a total of 307 guests on fast-attack submarines like the Greeneville last year, an average of 15 guests per trip, according to Navy estimates. Three times as many went to sea on bigger ballistic-missile submarines. Including carriers and other surface ships, the Pacific Fleet had a total of 7,836 guests on 158 trips last year, down from 11,440 guests on 233 trips in 1999.

Though no overall number of civilian guests is available, the services said they have hundreds of programs that allow Americans to tour ships, visit bases, participate in training or observe other military activities.The programs are regarded as a way to keep civilians aware of what it takes to keep the armed forces trained and at the ready.

The premier program, Hoke said, is the annual joint program by all the services for what the Pentagon calls "opinion leaders." It started last weekend with a Saturday dinner and Sunday briefing, includes meetings with senior Pentagon officials and will take 56 guests to programs provided by each of the services around the country.

A hospital president, a Wall Street broker, a Girl Scout leader and two city mayors are among the group that learned about paratrooping Tuesday at Fort Bragg. They are scheduled Wednesday to don gas masks and chemical weapons suits at Camp Lejuene as part of the six-stop tour of U.S. bases.

"It gives them insight, ... a broader understanding, a clearer focus," Hoke said, adding that it's hoped the guests will go home and spread the word about what they learned.


On the Net:

Navy's Greeneville accident site: www.cpf.navy.mil/greeneville.html