Military leaders in Hawaii outline year of transition
By William Cole
The year 2010 for the military in Hawai'i will be one of transition: some of the last deployments to Iraq and a shift to Afghanistan, a growing Pentagon focus on the Pacific, some looming budget cuts and the need to renew people and machinery getting worn out by eight years of war.
That was the prognosis provided by some of the top military commanders in the Pacific, who yesterday briefed the business community at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i's ninth annual "military partnership conference."
"The force health, I would offer, is good, (but) the force is stressed," said Adm. Robert Willard, the head of U.S. Pacific Command with 320,000 personnel under his control.
Willard, who is headquartered at Camp Smith, said every Army brigade within the U.S. Army in the Pacific is deployed, preparing to deploy or in reset following deployment.
The Marine Corps is equally engaged, he said.
The Navy and Air Force, meanwhile, are being relied upon to maintain deterrence in the region while those other forces are gone.
"So it's a very busy time for Pacific Command," Willard told more than 300 members of Hawai'i's business community at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
About 4,300 soldiers with Schofield Barracks' Stryker Brigade are scheduled to return to Iraq — possibly for the last time — next summer.
Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, deputy commander of Marine Forces Pacific, said almost 12,000 Marines are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. plans to pull its combat forces from Iraq by August; the Army's Stryker Brigade will have training duties.
"We're working very hard to close out our (Marine) bases out there," Broadmeadow said of Iraq.
By March, the last of the Corps' "operational" Marines are scheduled to leave Iraq, and the service will go to just under 12,000 Marines in Afghanistan, Broadmeadow said.
"Our focus has shifted to Afghanistan," he said.
The Navy has been busy with aircraft carrier escorts to the Middle East, anti-piracy missions, humanitarian aid and presence patrols to the western Pacific.
Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, said almost 45 percent of the fleet is under way, "and that is not a sustainable model."
"The nation is focused, rightfully," on combat in two wars, Walsh said.
"(But) we have got an all-volunteer force that was never designed for that kind of pump and rotation on people and their families over a continuous period of time," Walsh said.
With services burning through their budgets in war, Walsh said he expects pressure to operate in an environment where resources are constrained.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon, commander of U.S. Army Pacific based at Fort Shafter, said from an operational perspective, including training, "we expect the money to be able to accomplish that mission."
However, he said he already has been told to expect a 15 percent to 20 percent reduction in money for installation costs.
The budget fluctuations don't mean that the military won't continue to have big projects in Hawai'i.
Broadmeadow, the Marine Forces Pacific deputy commander, said plans call for $700 million in military construction to be completed in the next four years.
The Chamber of Commerce's David Carey said the military pumps $10.1 billion per year into Hawai'i's economy and generates 92,000 jobs.
"These figures clearly reflect the defense industry's critical place as a major source of revenue for our economy and a major provider of good, stable jobs for our residents," Carey said.
Broadmeadow also said tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey aircraft still are slated to replace aging CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters at Kane'ohe Bay — a change that had been discussed in the past.
The Corps also expects some CH-53E Super Stallions — an upgraded version of the choppers at Marine Corps Base Hawaii — as well as some Cobra attack helicopters.
A jet-engined surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, is expected to replace older P-3C Orion propeller aircraft sometime between 2012 and 2015, Broadmeadow said.
Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, the state adjutant and head of the Hawai'i National Guard, said the Air Guard's 199th Fighter Squadron is on track to receive the first two F-22 Raptor fighters this summer.
Another 18 of the stealth aircraft, which can cruise at supersonic speed without afterburners, will arrive by the end of calendar year 2011, he said. Active-duty Air Force and Guard members will fly and maintain the aircraft.
About 1,700 members of the Hawai'i Army National Guard completed a nine-month deployment to Kuwait and Iraq over the summer.
The collapse of the economy meant the overseas pay was welcome — while it lasted — and some jobs were lost lost upon the return.
"We had many of our soldiers receive 'Dear John' letters — not from their girlfriends or wives — but from their employers," Lee said.
As businesses folded, jobs were gone. Other young soldiers who had the lowest seniority lost jobs in cutbacks.
But Lee thanked the business community for trying to pick up the slack. Job fairs were held "and you all showed up in droves," he said to the audience.
Additional smaller Hawai'i Guard units continue to deploy: Lee said B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation and its CH-47 Chinook helicopters will be called up at the end of 2010 for duty in Iraq.
Willard, the Pacific commander, said China remains a concern in the Asia-Pacific region. The nation is rapidly building its military and its intentions remain unclear.
Six of the world's largest militaries are in the command area of responsibility. Recognizing the importance of the Asia-Pacific region, the Pentagon in 2006 mandated that 60 percent of the Navy's submarines be homeported in the Pacific by the end of 2010.
The Navy announced Wednesday that a third new Virginia-class submarine, the USS North Carolina, will be homeported in Hawai'i, with the submarine expected to arrive next summer.
Deployments to the Western Pacific, along with humanitarian assistance, remain a priority.
On average, the U.S. military provides disaster relief every 60 days, Willard said, adding that he has assistance ready in the event the Mayon volcano erupts in the Philippines and the country requests help.
In June, meanwhile, the 14th Coast Guard District — headquartered in Honolulu — joined with the crew of the Pearl Harbor-based frigate Crommelin to support U.S. Coast Guard fisheries enforcement in Oceania.
The Crommelin was on a routine deployment in the Western Pacific at the time.
The Coast Guard has a "fight for fish" mission to protect fisheries in the Pacific.