Live-fire training not an urgent need
A federal judge has forbidden the Army from live-fire drills in Makua Valley until completion of an environmental study.
THE Army made a compelling case for adequate training of 7,000 combat soldiers in Makua Valley, despite environmental concerns, but a federal judge has ruled
that live-fire drills are not an urgent component of such exercises. Following warnings that troops would have to be flown to the Big Island or California to experience live ammunition, the soldiers will continue training along the Waianae Range. The Army's response to the ruling showed that the judge was right.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, says the soldiers will continue using blank ammunition in the Makua Valley Military Reservation, despite what he now calls "this temporary setback." Mixon and those under his command are due for deployment to Iraq in July.
Federal Judge Susan Mollway agreed last week that "adequate training is undeniably critical" for soldiers to be prepared for war. However, in a 35-page ruling, she said the Army had not established that preparation will be adequate only if they receive live-fire training.
The ruling comes after a lengthy battle following fires in 1998 that burned through environmentally sensitive and archaeological sites. The Army suspended training in the valley and agreed to study the effects of resuming use of live-fire ammunition.
At the insistence of Malama Makua, a community group, the Army agreed soon after the 9/11 attacks to limit itself to 35 live-fire exercises while working toward completion of an environmental impact statement by October 2004. The deadline elapsed, and the Army doesn't expect to finish the study until March or April.
Completion of the environmental statement is not likely to end the standoff with Malama Makua, which undoubtedly will challenge its conclusions. The Army can be expected to seek a resumption of live-fire training while the case is pending, but it will need to provide evidence of its urgent need for Mollway to depart from her assessment.
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