IN THE MILITARY
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tropic Lightning soldiers checked out a Stryker combat vehicle outfitted to carry soldiers back in July 2004, when Schofield Barracks officials brought one from the mainland. The first of the 25th Division's 300 Strykers is expected to arrive here next month.
Ready to roll
Schofield prepares to welcome its first Strykers next month
THE FIRST of Schofield Barracks' 300 eight-wheel, 19-ton Stryker combat vehicles will arrive in the islands early next month, with the rest expected in groups of 30 beginning in late summer.
Ron Borne, head of the Schofield Barracks transformation process, said the 25th Infantry Division's nearly billion-dollar conversion of its 2nd Brigade Combat Team to the Army's sixth Stryker brigade is "ongoing and on schedule."
During a recent interview, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, 25th Division commander, said his 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which spent a year in Iraq, received 810 additional soldiers last fall. "We're just about 100 percent strength as far as soldiers are concerned. They are now undergoing systems training, and they will begin their detailed training with their vehicles this summer."
Borne added that by the time the Stryker combat brigade is operational in May 2007, it will be have nearly 3,900 soldiers. It will include three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, an artillery battalion, a support battalion, a military intelligence company, an engineer company, a signal company and an anti-tank company.
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The first of the 25th Division's 300 Strykers is expected to arrive here next month.
Borne said a medical ambulance version of the Stryker -- one of 11 different ways the Stryker will be configured -- will be sent to Hawaii from the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Va. Borne said it will probably be retained as part of the 2nd Brigade's fleet.
The armored vehicle can be outfitted with anything from 105 mm cannons to medical supplies, and used as a battlefield ambulance to command and intelligence centers. The Stryker is supposed to be operational even when four of its wheels have been shot out.
As a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition vehicle, the Stryker can be equipped with a Shadow unmanned aircraft, a drone, as well as electronic intelligence systems and portable anti-missiles.
As a troop carrier, these combat vehicles -- the first the Army has produced in 20 years -- can travel up to 60 mph and carry 11 soldiers.
Borne said that by this fall the rest of the Strykers will arrive in batches of about 30 at Schofield Barracks, depending on the Army's transportation schedule. Each Stryker will cost more than $1.5 million.
Mixon wants to have the Stryker ambulance vehicle on display at the Honolulu Convention Center during the Great Aloha Run next month.
THE STRYKER, WHOSE development was pushed by former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, was introduced to combat two years ago in Iraq. One of its key features is the use of digital electronics that link vehicles not only with each other, but with soldiers wearing wireless communications gear.
Twenty-eight military construction projects are planned, to prepare Schofield Barracks and the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area for the new Stryker unit, at a total cost of $693 million.
Borne said Schofield's Stryker soldiers will spend time before the vehicles arrive training with computers and software that will be part of the new combat system, as well as learning tactics that will be used with the new vehicles.
The conversion of the 2nd Combat Brigade Team is just part of the Army's transformation program, which involves the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Bronco Brigade.
Under the Army's new restructuring, the 3rd Brigade, which is preparing for a year-long Iraq tour beginning in July, will become a stand-alone, self-sufficient unit with 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers able to deploy rapidly.
The Army's new modular brigade system means the Tropic Lightning Division, which now has two infantry brigades stationed at Schofield Barracks, will gain two more infantry units, for a total of four brigade combat teams.
However, Army spokesman Troy Griffin said in a news release that the two new brigades will not be based here and will not fall under the command of Mixon, commanding general of the 25th Division.
BESIDES THE TWO infantry brigades at Schofield Barracks, the 25th Division is affiliated with the 1st Brigade at Fort Lewis in Washington, the Army's second Stryker brigade. The new 25th Division units will be:
» The 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Richardson in Alaska, an airborne unit.
» The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, which is now in Iraq.
Griffin said, however, that the Washington unit is expected to be sent to Germany and will be the core Stryker brigade in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. When that occurs, the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team will be redesignated as the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
The 25th Division headquarters element, as well as its 3rd Brigade Combat Team, will complete the restructuring process before deploying to Iraq in July.
LAST WEEK, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said in a news release that the 25th Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team is one of 37 combat or support brigades that have either completed transformation to the modular design or are well along in the process.
Harvey added that in 2005, the Army created four new modular brigade combat teams and one Stryker brigade combat team, and completed the transformation of seven existing brigades to the modular design.
The Pentagon plans to move 30,000 soldiers out of non-combat-related skills into more operational or war-fighting jobs, he said. The jobs these soldiers leave behind will be filled by civilians.
The transformational changes have already started to achieve the Army's goal of a more combat-ready force with less strain on deployable units, Harvey said.
The 65-year-old Tropic Lightning Division has fought in all of the nation's wars since World War II. In 1985 it was designated as a rapid-reaction light division, with 17,000 soldiers designed to fight in any hot spot in Asia and the Pacific. Once the current transformation takes place, the 25th Division will lose its designation as a "light" division.