Training areas critical to Army's mission
By Charles M. Ota
The U.S. Army recently announced that the Hawai'i Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade and the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Infantry Brigade have been alerted to prepare for deployments by the end of this year. The 29th Brigade returned from Iraq in 2006 and the 3rd Brigade returned from Iraq just last November.
These deployments follow the 25th Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade deploying this past December, Marines of the 3rd Marine Regiment from Kane'ohe continuing to deploy in seven-month rotations, and Navy ships and submarines accompanying carrier groups on six-month deployments to the western Pacific. The newly established C-17 squadron on Hickam Air Force Base handles frequent air missions delivering vital cargo while the Hawai'i Air National Guard's KC-135s are constantly in demand to refuel aircraft flying missions over the Pacific.
These unending rotations of Hawai'i-based units serve as a reminder of the critical importance of Hawai'i's military training areas.
Yet small environmental and cultural groups remain uncompromising in their attempts to close training areas.
It is true that the live-fire training area at Makua Valley has been closed for several years. But this is only because Earthjustice filed a suit against the U.S. Army which, if upheld, could result in closing the range permanently.
Another suit filed by Earthjustice has resulted in a federal court order to stop the construction of millions of dollars worth of projects on Schofield Barracks and the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island. These projects are vital for the Army's transformation to highly mobile modular combat units and to better prepare our troops for today's combat environment. This includes urban warfare and live-fire maneuver training that is so critical to avoiding improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have caused hundreds of deaths and other casualties.
The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team that deployed to Iraq in December had no place to complete its training in Hawai'i, and had to transport its Stryker vehicles and other equipment to the Mainland to complete its training. This took months, cost millions of dollars and caused our soldiers to suffer more separations from their families.
Military units are strategically placed in Hawai'i for two reasons. First, they serve as visible front-line deterrent forces to deny potential adversaries any opportunity to cause harm in the Asia Pacific. The U.S. military would prefer to prevent wars, rather than fight in one. The second is to respond quickly and decisively should the need arise. This means that our units must be properly sized, manned, equipped and trained in combat-ready status and prepared for immediate response.
A sudden crisis in today's world will not afford our Army and Marine Corps ground forces the luxury of time to travel to the Mainland to complete training. The military must have live-fire maneuver training areas in Hawai'i to prevail in any contingency.
For Hawai'i, it is imperative that we continue to provide the resources needed for the military to maintain peace and stability among the nations of the Asia Pacific. This need will continue so long as threats to our security and that of our partners continue to exist.
And there is a path toward satisfying Hawai'i's environmental and cultural interests without denying our troops the right to survive the horrors of war.
Lt. Gen. Randy Mixon, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, has offered to discuss how the Army can do a better job of satisfying environmental and cultural concerns. This path offers far more effect than seeking settlement in court. The parties must meet in the spirit of compromise rather than seek legal measures.
It may not be too long in the distant future when the Koreas are united, the waters of the Malacca Straits are free and open and threats of nuclear attack disappear. Then, perhaps, we can all rejoice in freeing Hawai'i's resources from use as military training areas.
Charles M. Ota is vice president, military affairs for the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.