Abercrombie hopesHAWAII REP. NEIL ABERCROMBIE says relocating live-fire training from Makua Valley "is on the table" now that the Army plans a large investment to upgrade a 25th Infantry Division brigade.
Army will consider
leaving Makua Valley
A Schofield brigade's conversion
creates new options, he says
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Earlier this month, the Army said Schofield Barracks-based Tropic Lightning's 2nd Brigade would be one of four nationwide to be transformed into a fast-response brigade capable of arriving in a trouble spot within days. The Army is expected to invest about $1 billion to transform the 2nd Brigade into the so-called interim combat brigade.
As a ranking member of the House military construction subcommittee, Abercrombie said the Army's decision opens the door to looking at other possible training facilities besides Makua, where live-fire training exercises have incurred the wrath of some residents, native Hawaiians and environmentalists.
Abercrombie said he plans "to work closely with the Army and hopes this issue can be resolved with patience and the lowering of the rhetoric all the way around."
Like local Army officials, Abercrombie believes the Pentagon's July 12 announcement to include the Tropic Lightning's 2nd Brigade in its transformation process gave it options and the flexibility it did not have before on the issue of training ranges and Makua.
The announcement means the 2nd Brigade within the next decade will become a 3,500-member fighting force with an additional 480 soldiers and 300 of the Army's newest eight-wheeled, 19-ton armored troop carriers.
But Army officials maintain that this transformation proposal has a lot of uncertainties that must be addressed over the next several decades.
The "urgent need to train forces at Makua now does not change as a result of the Army transformation announcement," said Maj. Gen. Craig Whelden, U.S. Army Pacific deputy commanding general.
THE TRANSFORMATION of the 2nd Brigade is just a small part of an overall change the Army announced in 1999 in an attempt to become strategically responsive to all types of warfare. The process is expected to take 30 years.
In a position paper last year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki outlined a vision for the post-Cold War military that could "place a combat-capable brigade anywhere in the world, regardless of ports or airfields, in 96 hours."
That would be followed by a division on the ground in 120 hours and five divisions in a combat area in 30 days.
Eventually, the Army envisions eight such combat brigades and has already allocated $7.4 billion to field six of these eight brigades through 2007. These rapidly deployable combat brigade teams will be centered around the new interim eight-wheeled armored vehicle.
The interim force will bridge the gap that has existed since the end of the Cold War.
Each brigade is supposed to get $1 billion. Army officials here say $500 million could be used statewide to realign current Schofield Barracks ranges, to build new ones and other training facilities such as urban warfare sites, and to construct additional barracks, family housing, motor pools, road and airfield upgrades and storage facilities.
The money also would be used to expand and improve the Big Island's Pohakuola Training Area.
BESIDES EXPLORING the possibility of realigning current training ranges at Schofield Barracks, the Army has the option of examining other locations on the Neighbor Islands.
The Army is conducting an environmental impact statement for all of the proposed four new brigades. This EIS is expected to take a broad look at the general types of environmental impacts that can be expected from sites selected to be the home of an interim combat brigade team and alternative courses of action.
"The public will also have a chance to be involved by commenting on the draft EIS when it is published late this summer or early this fall," said Chuck Muston, Army spokesman.
Muston added that the next step would be another environmental impact statement specifically designed to explore the issues surrounding the conversion of the 2nd Brigade in Hawaii.
Abercrombie said his position in the House as well as the leadership roles held by Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye "places Hawaii in a good position to resolve these issues."
The change also comes at a crucial time for the 25th Division because of the nearly three-year controversy over the continued use of Makua Valley as a live-fire training range.
Environmentalists and Hawaiian activists want the Army out of the 4,100-acre Waianae Coast valley.
They have filed a federal lawsuit arguing that continual use of the valley will strip it of endangered plants and animals.
A federal judge will hear arguments Oct. 29 by critics who want the Army to do a more comprehensive environmental impact statement before resuming training, which has been suspended since 1998.
THE ARMY MAINTAINS that the need for Makua as a training range remains because it still has to support its other units, including other elements of the 25th Infantry Division, according spokeswoman Maj. Nancy Makowski.
To have time to develop its new fighting force over the next two decades, the Army argues that it needs to sustain the readiness of this force.
Earlier this month, Maj. James Dubik, in briefing his senior staff on the changes facing the 25th Division that he commands, said the interim brigades are needed to bridge the gap between the Army's current light forces, like the 25th Division, and heavy units made up of tanks.
"Light forces can deploy rapidly but lack firepower and mobility once they're on the ground," said Dubik, who was deputy commanding general for transformation at Fort Lewis before he assumed command of the 25th Division.
"Heavy forces have the firepower and mobility, but can't be moved quickly to the places where they're needed. We can't count on six months to prepare, as we had in Desert Storm. Our adversaries will never make that mistake again.
"Our Cold War strategy was centered in Europe, and we had time to develop the theater and preposition equipment there. In the foreseeable future, the Army is more likely to deploy into Third World countries with poor infrastructures such as ports, airfields, highways, and bridges.
"Do you know how many bridges there are in Kosovo capable of holding up under a 70-ton Abrams tank?" Dubik asked. "Zero."