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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 28, 2006

Schofield brigades heading to Iraq

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Army commanders at Schofield Barracks yesterday identified two more brigades they will send to Iraq later this summer as part of yearlong deployment of 7,000 troops.

Nearly 2,400 soldiers with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and nearly 500 soldiers from the 45th Sustainment Brigade will join troops from the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said Lt. Col. Walt Piat, Operations Officer for the 25th Infantry Division.

Many of them spent a year in Afghanistan or Iraq during previous deployments that ended in early 2005.

This month, about 2,200 Hawai'i National Guard and Reserve soldiers and 1,500 Mainland and Pacific-based counterparts are winding up an Iraq mobilization that began in mid-August of 2004. Meanwhile, about 880 Kane'ohe Bay Marines and sailors with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment left for Afghanistan three weeks ago, eight months after ending their deployment to Iraq.

In their announcement yesterday, Schofield commanders stressed the need for access to training sites in Hawai'i as a way to bring the troops home safely.

"The key to accomplishing our mission in country, taking care of our soldiers and bringing them home safely is our unfettered access to quality local training areas here on O'ahu and on the Big Island," said Col. Thomas Ball, commander of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The commander of the 45th Sustainment Brigade said their training must focus on convoy operations and that "the best place on O'ahu" to do that is at the Makua Military Reservation in Makua Valley.

"Convoy operations are a large and dangerous piece of our daily duties and convoy live-fire training is critical to our preparedness," said the brigade's commander, Col. Michael McBride.

Their statements come at a time when community activists and the Army are arguing in federal court over the need to resume live-fire training at Makua Valley.

The Army most recently trained in the 4,190-acre valley 15 months ago under a 2001 settlement agreement with environmental and community groups.

Under the court settlement, the Army was allowed to train in the valley for three years as long as it conducted an extensive environmental study of the effects of more than 50 years of military live-fire training in the valley. The study is more than a year overdue.

A federal judge is expected to rule sometime next week on an Army request to resume training.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who represents Malama Makua, the community group that sued the Army, said yesterday's public announcement by the Army was an attempt to curry public favor. He said the brigades had been identified in court documents in November.

"I think they are certainly trying to get public sympathy for this statement that Makua is irreplaceable," Henkin said.

Henkin said the Army has access to quality training at Pohakuloa on the Big Island, and to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California.

"If they feel they don't have adequate training resources in Hawai'i under the court order into which they voluntarily entered, then they should schedule more training at the National Training Center and other facilities where they can perform these exercises," Henkin said.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.