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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Army weighs Stryker options

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

With a federal appeals court injunction last week, the Army faces the possibility that it will have to train its O'ahu-based Stryker brigade at a location such as Fort Lewis, Wash., for a deployment to Iraq next year.

A host of contractors, meanwhile, now find work stopped on some of the 28 projects worth $700 million that were under way for the 328-vehicle Stryker unit one of the biggest Army projects in Hawai'i since World War II.

Charlie Ota, vice president for military affairs with the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i, said it stands to reason the stoppage would have an effect on contractors and jobs.

"I would think it's a real cause for concern," Ota said. "I don't know how long this injunction is going to last."

The chamber's military affairs council is expected to meet today with Lt. Gen. John M. Brown III, the head of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, to discuss the ramifications.

In court papers, the Army said Stryker training in Hawai'i "cannot be halted at this late date without doing irreparable harm to the Army, the soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, and this nation's security."

But in issuing the temporary injunction Friday, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Army violated national environmental law by not considering alternate locations outside Hawai'i for the Stryker unit.

Contradicting Army statements, the court found that the service "conceded that most of its (Stryker) activities are not critical to national security, and it has not provided convincing reasons why even the 'critical' activities are 'critical.' "

Completing a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to look at locations other than Hawai'i for the 3,900-soldier brigade may take a year to two years.

Army court filings say the O'ahu-based Stryker brigade, one of seven fast-strike units planned by the Army, already is 12 months into its 20-month training program. The Department of the Army is weighing its options in the court case, an official said yesterday.

The Stryker brigade and its 19-ton armored vehicles are expected to be ready for deployment by November 2007, but an Army official said the brigade was expected to deploy to Iraq next summer.

"The Army cannot afford to delay the transformation and readiness of a single brigade, including the 2nd Brigade (at Schofield Barracks)," the Army said. "If 2nd Brigade is not available to deploy when required as (Stryker Brigade Combat Team 5), then every other brigade in the Army would have to deploy sooner."

But David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney representing three Hawaiian groups that brought the suit against the Army, and upon which the latest appeals court ruling is based, said Stryker training facilities already exist at Fort Lewis.

Henkin said Fort Lewis has one Stryker unit at home and another is starting up. Another Stryker brigade recently deployed to Iraq for a year and one was transferred to Germany.

"They don't tell the court the fact that they just sent one to Germany and they just sent one to Iraq," Henkin said. "So you've got everything that you need to train a Stryker brigade at Fort Lewis, and you've got room for three brigades and they've only got two there. So while they may say it would be inconvenient ... it strains logic to say they just couldn't stand up (the Hawai'i-based unit) there if they wanted to."

'UNWORKABLE' PLAN

The Army said such a proposition is "unworkable" and will not allow the 2nd Brigade to stay on schedule to meet mission requirements.

There is simply "no brigade-size excess capacity for Army housing, training areas and installation facilities available in the United States," the Army said in court papers.

The third Stryker brigade will return to its post in Alaska before the 2nd Brigade could complete its training, and there would be a similar overlap with the impending activation of Stryker brigade seven at Fort Lewis.

If soldiers were trained in Alaska or at Fort Lewis, families would have to be left behind, and soldiers would have to endure separation during training followed by a year of separation while in Iraq, the Army said.

The Army said 80 percent of the Air Force's transport capability and 40 of 270 available training days would be required to make such a move entirely by air. But Strykers on O'ahu now have arrived by ship.

"They are moving all these Stryker vehicles here. ... They are not saying it's taking 80 percent of the Air Force to do that," Henkin said.

The court case reverts to U.S. District Judge David Ezra sometime after Thanksgiving to rule on what scope a continuing injunction should have until the supplemental review is completed, Henkin said.

The judge will have to decide if there is anything the Army can do that will not irreparably harm the environment or irretrievably commit the service to a Stryker brigade in Hawai'i, but he is bound by the appeals court's findings, he said.

TOO EARLY TO TELL

The temporary order enjoins the Army from, among others, grading, construction, project design, contract award and Stryker-specific training pending entry of a further injunction by the District Court.

Dick Pacific Construction issued a statement yesterday saying it has been working on a Stryker-related deployment facility at Wheeler Army Air Field since December 2005.

"We received notice from the Army Corps of Engineers that all work should be suspended as a result of the court's ruling," said Gerry Majkut, senior vice president.

At this point, "it is too early to speculate on what the impacts of the ruling are to our project," he said. "We are now awaiting further instructions from the Army Corps of Engineers."

Mike Yuen, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai'i, yesterday said the "senator's advocacy of having a Stryker brigade based in Hawai'i has always been based on national security concerns" and the economic impact side was not a consideration.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.