Army wants to add 2,000 troops in Hawaii
|Video: 2,000 more soldiers at Schofield and Fort Shafter|
|StoryChat: Comment on this story|
The Army yesterday said it will conduct an environmental impact study to evaluate the potential effect of adding 2,000 or more soldiers to bases on O'ahu — the latest estimate of how many more soldiers may come to the Isles under a "Grow the Force" initiative.
In January 2007, President Bush announced he would increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to provide for current and future needs and to reduce stress on deployable personnel.
The Army is expected to grow by 74,000 soldiers to a force of 547,000, and the Marine Corps is being expanded from 180,000 to 202,000, in part to meet needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The estimate of additional soldiers coming to O'ahu over the next several years has fluctuated since November in Army statements, with the service first reporting 1,400, and later 1,050.
Now, the estimate is 1,000 or more soldiers at Fort Shafter, and 1,000 or more at Schofield Barracks.
The Army also announced yesterday it will prepare a supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement to analyze the effects of troop increases in Hawai'i and Alaska — something it had not planned to do when it first announced details of the troop increases in November.
David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney who represents plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Army's Stryker brigade and training in Makua Valley, said the Army appears to have "grown the 'Grow the Force' " initiative as it relates to Hawai'i.
The Army had about 18,000 soldiers based on O'ahu in 2006.
Henkin said the decision by the Army earlier to not study the impact of adding soldiers to Hawai'i was "not legal, was not the way it was supposed to be, and maybe we're now seeing a little bit of mopping up" with the announcement of a supplemental environmental impact statement.
STILL IN EARLY STAGES
The Army previously looked at 17 Mainland installations for the bulk of the new troop additions, and left out Hawai'i because the total projected here was below levels at which the Army believed significant impact would occur.
But Henkin said the additions would put greater pressure on cultural sites and endangered species, and on families looking to rent.
"People are literally living on the streets because they can't afford a place to live. Now we're talking about thousands and thousands of more people living here," Henkin said. "So the Army needs to take some responsibility when they bring thousands of additional soldiers here and their dependents."
Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, said the Army is just at the beginning stage of the basing plan. "Scoping" comments to determine what the Army should look at in its study will be accepted until April 16.
"We're trying to elicit comment so we can find out what are the issues?" Shanks said. "What are the things we need to look at in order to properly analyze the potential impacts from any future (troop basing) we may do?"
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, both Hawai'i Democrats, yesterday released a statement saying that the Army plans in the supplemental environmental impact statement to study the effects of adding anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers to bases in the Pacific theater, including Alaska and Hawai'i.
"The Army is not getting ready to move more troops to Hawai'i tomorrow," said Abercrombie, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces. "But they are required to evaluate the capacity of their bases to support the reassignment of troops as long-term decisions are made about reallocating forces around the world, and particularly since Congress has been pushing the Bush administration to increase the size of the Army."
Abercrombie added that the supplemental study is not connected to continuing questions about the basing of the Stryker brigade at Schofield Barracks, which added about 1,000 more soldiers to O'ahu.
The Army recently recommended Hawai'i as the "preferred" alternative for the 4,000-soldier unit, which has about 320 eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles.
The Army in 2001 picked Hawai'i for one of its now seven planned Stryker brigades.
In October 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Army violated federal environmental law by not adequately considering locations outside the state for the fast-response unit.
Bases in Alaska and Colorado were examined before the Army in February again recommended Hawai'i as the best location, but the Army still has to make a final decision.
The study looking at adding more troops to Mainland Army bases was completed in January. U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, said the study comes at a time when the Army is increasing in size and also pulling back some forces from overseas bases.
"Under these circumstances, Army officials will naturally consider placing additional units in Hawai'i because of the state's strategic location," Inouye said.
Last year, the Army announced the possibility of stationing more logistics forces — such as engineering, military police or battlefield surveillance units — in Hawai'i to support the operations of combat brigades already here.
The Army is building or renovating 7,894 family homes in Hawai'i, with completion expected by 2014. Approximately 5,500 families are housed by the Army currently.
The number of Hawai'i-based military and family members is again on the upswing. It peaked in 1988 at about 134,000 and began a sharp decline in the 1990s. In 2002, the number was 81,610, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
In 1988, there were 21 surface ships based at Pearl Harbor, compared with about half that today. A renewed strategic focus on the Asia-Pacific region has led to an increase in military personnel in the state.Staff writer Dennis Camire contributed to this report.
From the editor: StoryChat was designed to promote and encourage healthy comment and debate. We encourage you to respect the views of others and refrain from personal attacks or using obscenities.
By clicking on "Post Comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Service and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.