Inouye praises Bush's defense team, but urges focus on Asia
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
Offering a staunch defense of live-ammunition training at Makua Valley, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye warned a gathering yesterday of high-ranking military officers, state legislators and business leaders that Hawaii could lose the 25th Infantry Division (Light) if the Army is barred from the area.
"If I was a commanding officer and I couldnt train my men under me, I would suggest strongly: Lets get the hell out of here," Inouye said.
After the meeting, Army officials seemed emboldened by Inouyes words and noted that the final decision on whether the Army leaves the state would not be made locally nor without a thorough discussion.
"We put great value into what (Inouye) says," said Brig. Gen. Karl Eikenberry of Schofield Barracks. "These are decisions that are far, far above us. We have said that Makua Valley is very critical to the Army."
Inouye made his remarks at the annual military briefing to the Legislature yesterday, surprising some in the audience with his strong words about Makua Valley.
|U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said the Makua issue is "contentious and disturbing."
"I know the Makua issue will be contentious and disturbing," Inouye said. "But if we are concerned about the security of this land and the stability of the region, we better think twice before closing Makua."
The Army is gathering public comment on its supplemental environmental assessment of training in Makua and says live-ammunition exercises, which were suspended in September 1998, could resume as early as March.
Members of the Leeward Coast community are opposed to the plan. They disagree with the Army viewpoint that training can be done without damaging cultural artifacts or the environment. They have sued the Army in federal court and hope to prevent further training.
Inouye described a shrinking list of training sites available to military leaders in Hawaii, including the loss of Kahoolawe, which had been used by the Navy as a bombing site for decades.
"You should also keep in mind that any commanding officer worth his salt knows one word: readiness," Inouye said. "We have taken away Kahoolawe. We have taken away Bellows field, where there is now only a small sliver of beach to land on. Now if we take away Makua, I would expect our commanding officers to go back to the drawing board."
Inouye said modern communications technology would allow the military to move almost any portion of its Hawaii operations to another state and still keep it in touch with forces worldwide. He said some have suggested sending the 25th Infantry Division (Light) to Fort Lewis, Wash.
"They can train there," he said. "Can you imagine what would happen to a little town called Wahiawa? It would become a ghost town."
State Senate President Robert Bunda, D-22nd (Wahiawa, Waialua, Sunset Beach), told the audience yesterday that it would be hard to imagine Wahiawa without the Army as a next door neighbor.
"To think we are having to close Makua really concerns me," he said. "What Id like to do as the legislative session progresses is to work with the community and work with the Waianae community and work with the military to come to an agreement."
Ken Sandefur, chairman of the Military Affairs Council for the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, which was host to the briefing, said the community should take Inouyes comments to heart.
"He is saying it is very serious and that you have to work your way through it," Sandefur said. "It isnt something you have to argue and fight over. The downside of this is bad for everyone."
The citizens group Malama Makua has been among the more vocal opponents to military training in Makua Valley, but the Army has quietly questioned how much of the community the group actually represents.
Group members will be in the audience Wednesday when the Army holds a public comment hearing in Waianae. Army officials are seeking a neutral party to run the meeting and at least two local politicians have declined. "We want to make this as nonthreatening as possible," said Army spokeswoman Capt. Cynthia Teramae.
Community is 'very, very together'
Fred Dodge, a member of Malama Makua and a Waianae physician, said the group has more than 100 members and enjoys solid support along the Leeward Coast. He said most residents want the Army to conduct an environmental impact statement, which is a more thorough study than the one it has nearly finished.
"The community is very, very together on this," Dodge said. "I think the great majority of the people want an EIS. They want to know what is there."
Malama Makua is not against military training, he said.
"Weve never said that," Dodge said. "We believe that Makua is an inappropriate place to do that training. We further believe there are alternatives and the military hasnt looked at these alternatives in depth."
But Cynthia Rezentes, chairwoman of the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board, said she isnt sure if there is a single community position on Army use of Makua Valley.
"It is such a personal issue," she said. "And it is a very difficult one for everyone. When you think about it, a lot of people down here have husbands, brothers, whoever ... are serving with the military. And they want them to be prepared."
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