Judge bans live-fire training at Makua
The Army says soldiers will fire blanks instead
THE ARMY plans to continue using Makua Valley as a training ground for the 7,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers headed for Iraq this summer, despite an adverse ruling by a federal judge.
But instead of firing live ammunition, they will be shooting blanks.
Federal Judge Susan Mollway said yesterday that the Army had failed to show that the 25th Infantry Division soldiers would be "inadequately trained" if they were not allowed to use live ammunition in field exercises at Makua Valley.
In a written response, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who commands the 25th Infantry Division and who will accompany his soldiers to Iraq in July, said the ruling "makes the task of training our soldiers to fight and survive on the battlefield more difficult. However, we will do everything in our power to continue to train our soldiers as thoroughly and realistically as possible, in preparation for the upcoming deployment."
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Army plans to continue using Makua Valley as a training ground -- but not for live-fire exercises.
Mixon said the Army will train in the Makua Valley Military Reservation using blank ammunition.
"This temporary setback will not dissuade the Army from pursuing returning to train in Makua," he said.
IN REJECTING the motion filed by Army attorneys in late November, Mollway said that the Army had agreed on Oct. 4, 2001, not to use the 4,190-acre valley for live-fire training if it did not complete an environmental impact statement by Oct. 4, 2004.
In its November request, the Army had hoped to get an amendment to the 2001 settlement similar to the one that was granted two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Under that amendment, limited live-fire training was allowed for three years to prepare 25th Division soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kaneohe Marines bound for Iraq also used the valley to prepare for similar combat missions.
This time, the Army had wanted to hold at least 30 separate training sessions before this summer.
The last time the Army fired live ammunition in Makua was August 2004. However, the 25th Division has used Makua for other types of training exercises using blank ammunition as late as October.
Mollway, in her 35-page decision, said: "Adequate training is undeniably critical. Without it, soldiers surely face increased risk of injury and death.
"But the Army does not establish for this court that training will only be adequate if live-fire training occurs at Makua."
She said the Army could send the soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Combat Brigade, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and 45th Sustainment Brigade to either the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island or the National Training Center in California.
David Henkin, Earthjustice attorney who represented the Leeward Oahu group Malama Makua in its fight to force the Army to leave the valley, said: "The court saw past the rhetoric and ruled based on the facts.
"The facts are that while the Army has many other places it can conduct live-fire training while it complies with NEPA's (National Environmental Policy Act) requirement to complete the EIS, the cultural and biological treasures at Makua are found there and nowhere else.
"If the Army were allowed to destroy these treasures through a training-related fire or misfired artillery shell, they would be lost to the people of Hawaii forever."
In siding with Malama Makua, Mollway said: "If the Army could do more than speculate that American troops would be inadequately trained absent live-fire training at Makua, the Army's position would be powerful indeed.
"It might then be difficult for Malama Makua to advance interests that outweighed those presented by the Army, as Malama Makua would be arguing that, for example, preservation of archaeological sites trumped preservation of human life that was at imminent risk.
"But that is only the dilemma the Army would like this court to assume."
Makua, which means "parents" in Hawaiian, is considered sacred to many because it contains cultural and archeological sites. Earlier Army studies found that there were more than 100 Hawaiian cultural sites in the valley.
It is also the home to more than 30 endangered plants and four animals: the Kahuli tree snail, elepaio, Hawaiian hoary bat and pueo.
Mollway noted that it has been 52 months, and the Army still has not completed the required EIS.
During a hearing on the Army's motion last month, the military said it hoped to complete the study in March or April.