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By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Secretary of the Army John McHugh visited Mākua Military Reservation on Friday and later voiced support for a plan to transition the valley to counter-roadside bomb training, unmanned aircraft operations and convoy exercises.
McHugh said the Army has done a "more than credible job" preserving historic and environmental sites in the 4,190-acre Wai'anae Coast valley.
McHugh visited Hawai'i during the final leg of a weeklong "listening tour" that also included stops in Alaska, South Korea and Japan.
The former Republican congressman from New York became the 21st secretary of the Army in September.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon, the head of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, in January revealed plans to convert Mākua from a storm-the-hill live-fire site to a roadside bomb and counterinsurgency training area.
"I think Gen. Mixon has worked very, very hard to develop a plan by which the Army recognizes (the cultural and environmental) significance, is spending a lot of effort and money to preserve the important species and plants that are endangered, as well as the historic sites, and has developed a way by which the Army can continue its training in ways that allow both to exist side by side," McHugh said.
Mākua Valley has long figured prominently in Army training plans — and environmental lawsuits seeking to prevent live-fire exercises there.
The Army's failure to complete an agreed-upon environmental analysis in the valley stopped live fire in 2004.
McHugh made the comments Friday at a news conference attended by Mixon and 25th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Bernard S. Champoux.
Champoux later this year will lead a deployment to Iraq by 800 soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division headquarters.
The Iraq duty, announced Friday, continues a trend of frequent and repeat deployments by soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.
McHugh acknowledged issues of spousal abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide in the ranks, and said that while not all of those problems are attributable to frequent deployments, "in large measure, we think there are correlations."
He said by the end of 2011, his goal is for 70 percent of active-duty soldiers to have two years at home for every year of deployment.
Studies have shown that it takes at least two years, and ideally closer to three years back at home, to recover from the stress of war zone duty, McHugh said.
"We're not providing that kind of dwell (at home) time, so we're working very hard to expand that for each and every soldier," McHugh said.
McHugh also said the Army is in the "very early stages" of working with the defense secretary's office to set up a method for soldiers to express their views about a possible repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the law that prohibits gays from openly serving in the U.S. military. President Obama has said he wants to repeal the law.