Army needs to make its case for Strykers
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The Army has been working for more than five years on a long-term project to "transform" to a force better suited and more quickly responsive to today's war threats. The emergence of Stryker brigades, named for the wheeled armored vehicle that's far more adaptable to various battle zones than the tank, is one of the central elements in this transformation.
Although Stryker technology has its shortcomings, it may indeed be the best protection for soldiers in the field currently available.
By itself, however, that fact doesn't make the case that the brigade should remain here on a permanent basis. Judging by its statewide presentations in recent weeks, the Army still needs to convince Hawai'i that it could make the Stryker operations a comfortable fit.
The federal court has compelled the Army to provide information about alternative sites for the brigade, and the current draft of the environmental impact statement shows a marked improvement. The other sites under consideration are Fort Richardson, Alaska; and Fort Carson, Colo.
The Army has been gathering public comment, especially in areas near training grounds: on the Big Island, where concerns center on impacts to Pohakuloa; and in Wai'anae and Wahiawa. There, in particular, the impact is expected to be substantial. The brigade would comprise more than 4,000 soldiers, 3,500 family members, 1,000 vehicles and a considerable range of equipment and garrison facilities.
There are clearly some attributes that make the Islands the standout location, and the displays mounted at the public meetings made the side-by-side comparisons easier. Hawai'i offers excellent garrison support, with all the administrative offices and infrastructure in place, and all the recent expansions of military housing provide nearly turn-key accommodations for soldiers and their families.
However, the Alaska site seems to be roughly Hawai'i's equal in some ways: Geographic location, for example, gives both locations "favorable" ratings for ease of strategic deployment.
But the comparison chart also rates Hawai'i as only "adequate" in terms of training ranges that are ready for use (construction or modification would be required on three or more ranges), and in terms of land available for maneuver training. Alaska is rated as "favorable" in both these aspects.
Army officials have indicated in recent weeks that if the Stryker brigade moves out of Hawai'i in late 2008 or early 2009, a smaller airborne brigade or another infantry brigade would replace it.
For those who are genuinely worried about how a permanent Stryker installation would affect this island state, it's encouraging to see the Army actively contemplating alternative options that will fit its broad objectives.
Given that the Army is also planning to increase its strength, some expansion here seems inevitable. But a community worried about its sustainable future needs to know how far the Army is willing to go to protect our sensitive environment.
And the list of significant impacts for Hawai'i was long, including soil erosion, wildfire management, loss of cultural resources and the destruction of threatened or endangered species. Residents need to be shown, with enough detail and clarity, to what degree damage could be limited.
The Stryker brigade has its supporters. In Hilo, veteran Larry Kurozawa pointed out the critical increase in safety the Stryker offers to soldiers. "Don't they deserve that?" he asked the crowd.
Of course. But the real question is, "What's the best way to get them this training?"
And the real challenge before the Army is to plan its transformation in a way that continues to demonstrate its commitment to being good neighbors among its civilian hosts.
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