U.S. Sen. InouyeDespite renewed attempts by the Bush administration to close more military bases, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, one of Washington's most influential lawmakers, doesn't believe that any of Hawaii's major installations face the possibility of being shut down.
Makua training protests imperil
future strategic relationships, he says
By Gregg K. Kakesako
But the Hawaii Democrat warned that "the time is coming when the art of war will mean this location will no longer be of prime importance as a strategic place ... With fast communications, fast ships, fast transports, (the military) doesn't have to be here.
"If the people of Hawaii put on an unfriendly front and if the military feels unwelcome, I think we should expect them someday to come to the conclusion, 'They don't want you; let's get out.'"
Inouye was referring to the controversy surrounding the military's use of Makua Valley as a specialized training area for soldiers and Marines. After nearly three years of not being able to fire any of its weapons in Makua, the Army on Oct. 29 must defend in federal court a current environmental assessment which states that reinstating a modified training schedule with smaller groups of soldiers will not harm the environment or endanger wildlife in the Leeward Oahu valley.
Inouye said that despite recent announcements that the 25th Infantry Division was picked to be in the forefront of the Army's "transformation" process, those changes, which come with promises of $1 billion for new equipment and facilities, are at least 10 years away and dependent on continual congressional support.
Until then, Inouye, a decorated World War II Army officer, said there is a pressing need to keep Makua as a training range.
Inouye said that when Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki recently said that Makua was too small to train the 25th Division's newest fighting team, he was talking about the distant future.
In upgrading the 25th Division, more soldiers will be added and a new light armored vehicle will be part of Schofield's arsenal, necessitating training areas larger than Makua.
That is why discussions are now underway with Campbell Estate to expand the Army's training ranges into Kunia and larger areas of the Kahuku foothills that it now owns, Inouye added.
"But for the present, where do you go to train?" Inouye said.
It would be too expensive to ship Schofield Barracks soldiers to Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island to stay proficient, he said. Such high training costs would raise eyebrows of his congressional colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee where he is a ranking member and in the end could result in the 25th Division being reassigned to the mainland.
Inouye believes in the case of Makua, the military legally could have "turned a deaf ear" to the concerns of the Waianae residents. "Instead, they made a very sincere effort to go into the community to talk to them and explain and go step by step. I just hope the community will understand and cooperate."
On Aug. 2, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he would like to see a fifth and possibly final round of base closures in 2003.
A new round of base closings would cost about $10 billion initially and may result in savings of about $3.5 billion a year, the Pentagon argues.
Ninety-seven installations were shut down in four rounds of closings since 1988, including Barbers Point Naval Air Station on Oahu. Those occurred in 1989 and 1995 under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC. The Bush offensive has been termed the Efficient Facilities Initiative.
Inouye acknowledges that in some cases it's very costly to maintain installations that were established to handle thousands and where only handful of soldiers and airmen are now located.
But there are concerns in Washington because lawmakers realize that "many who serve our nation and then retire tend to gravitate to bases where they served. You see a lot of them coming back to Hawaii. They purchase property so that they can live here. They are assuming that the PX (post exchange) will be there, and the commissary and health facilities will be allowed."
Inouye added that the prevailing mood in the Senate is for a moratorium on any BRAC process.
"We are suggesting to the administration that they should do a very serious study, naming alternative use of some of these facilities."
On the issue of military construction in Hawaii, Inouye said the lucrative flow of military dollars may slow down after the Ford Island redevelopment project is completed and up to 650 family units, 1,000 bachelor quarters and supporting facilities are built.
"All of the services are watching this because this could be the answer to the shortage of funds to the milcon (military construction) problem," Inouye said, referring to a unique private-military cooperative construction effort he helped shepherd through Congress to rebuild Ford Island.
"The military had the land," Inouye said, "so I suggested we could make some sort of lease arrangement with a private developer who builds what the military needs according to its specifications. The military guarantees occupancy, so the developer doesn't lose any money."