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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

What will the upcoming military buildup look like?

 •  The burning questions of 2006

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Hawai'i could see increases in Army and Navy personnel as the Department of Defense shifts its assets in the next year or so.

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The military in Hawai'i is growing, reversing a 20-year downsizing, but by how much and how fast depends on upcoming Washington decisions and opinions at home.

The Army's $1.5 billion Stryker Brigade is coming to Hawai'i this year, and with it 300 armored vehicles and 1,000 additional soldiers. Another 1,000 soldiers are arriving for other Army reorganization efforts.

A squadron of eight C-17 jet transports is on the way. The first $200 million cargo carrier is expected on Feb. 8. The arrival will transform Hickam Air Force Base from a mid-Pacific refueling stop into a base for a strategic airlift wing.

With Pacific threats growing, a renewed military relevance is at Hawai'i's doorstep, but the heavyweight on the block, if it comes, will be an aircraft carrier, its air wing of up to 80 aircraft, and assorted escort ships.

Guam, being built up as a forward U.S. military base in the Pacific, is being examined as an alternative location for a carrier, and has lobbied publicly for it. A decision is expected in February out of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review.

A flattop alone would bring 5,500 sailors and air crew; additional escort ships would mean hundreds more.

In San Diego, the Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2003 calculated that each carrier had an annual $270 million economic impact, including $111 million in payroll spent locally and $40 million in maintenance contracts.

Such an armada at Pearl Harbor would require new housing and affect schools and roads. How much is unclear. The U.S. military presence in Hawai'i would take a quantum leap, and correspondingly, so would the criticism from those who oppose the buildup, saying the military already controls too much land and pollutes it too much. Not since World War II has an aircraft carrier been based in Hawai'i.

Hawai'i had about 64,000 military personnel in 1988. Service-wide drawdowns reduced that number to 35,000 by 2004. But Hawai'i's population has increased by about 13,000 annually from 2000 to 2005, making O'ahu a more crowded place.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.