Saturday, July 21, 2001

On Ala Moana in front of the federal building earlier
this month, Nicky Yee, left, and Crystal Jiles held
signs protesting the military's use of Makua Valley.

Army changes
may affect Makua

A 25th Infantry unit will be
converted to a light armored force

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Army maintains there is no immediate relationship between the battle over the continued use of Makua Valley as a live-fire range and the recent decision to convert a 25th Infantry Division unit to a lightly armored, wheeled fighting force.

Its "urgent need" now is to train its Hawaii-based troops at Makua to maintain its readiness. That need has not changed despite the Pentagon's announcement that a 25th Division brigade has been selected to be part of the Army's next generation of peacekeepers.

Fort Shafter officials, however, do acknowledge some of these changes could eventually affect Makua Valley.

Local Army officials continue to maintain that a supplemental environmental assessment released in May is sufficient to justify that renewed training on 456 acres of the 4,000 acres the Army controls in Makua will not harm the environment.

The Army has not held any exercises in Makua since September 1998.

"We have the requirement to protect the Hawaiian culture, heritage and the environment," said Brig. Gen. William Caldwell, assistant 25th Division commander for operations. "We also must maintain a trained and ready Army. We can accomplish both of these in harmony."

But U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway rejected those arguments and set Oct. 29 to hear arguments on a request by Malama Makua, a group of Leeward residents, for a more comprehensive environmental impact statement. The Army says such a study is unnecessary, would cost taxpayers upward of $2 million and would take up to three years to complete.

At least one Waianae resident, William Aila, who opposes the military's use of Makua, believes the Army's proposal to assign 300 new light armored vehicles to a Schofield brigade makes Makua useless for future training since there is no room in the valley for them to maneuver.

In a three-page fact sheet, U.S. Army Pacific officials said yesterday the decision by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki to change the way the Army fights, or "transformation" in Army-speak, is to make the military "more responsive, deployable, agile, versatile, lethal, survivable and sustainable."

These new units, called interim brigade combat teams, will bridge the gap between slower-moving heavy forces -- such as armored infantry -- and lighter, more deployable light infantry units. This means units like Special Forces, Rangers and the 82nd Airborne Division are available today to be sent at a moment's notice, but heavily equipped units like the III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, or the V Corps in Germany take much longer to deploy, involving complicated ground and air support systems.

Two experimental brigades at Fort Lewis in Washington are being tested under the new concept. The conversion of the next generation -- four of them, including the 25th at Schofield -- was announced July 12, but the selections are conditional upon the outcome of an environmental impact statement the Army hopes to complete this fall.

The Army said "transformation involves fundamental changes to the way the Army organizes, operates and trains to meet its national defense readiness requirements." It will take several years to implement.

Schofield is to get the new eight-wheel, 19-ton vehicles, being built by General Motors, in 2006.

Fort Shafter officials said: "Part of the preparation to receive the IBCT on Oahu includes partnering with local communities and government to figure out ways to reduce military traffic on our roads and highways. Just as we currently try to carefully limit Army convoys on civilian roads, we will make every effort to find ways to move these vehicles to and from training areas without adversely affecting traffic."

The selection of the 25th Division in Hawaii and another brigade in Alaska "clearly illustrates the growing importance the Pacific region holds for the nation's military leadership," the fact sheet adds, noting shift of the focus toward Asia and away from Europe.

All of the brigades will be located near military air fields -- McChord Air Force Base in Washington, Hickam in Hawaii, Elmendorf in Alaska and Barksdale in Louisiana.

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