CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
More than 150 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team returned to Makua Valley yesterday for the first time since August 2004 to train. They were only allowed to use blank ammunition. An Army helicopter, one of four, slowed down to drop off soldiers in the training area.
Army plans more burns at Makua
Officials say they are needed to complete an environmental study
The Army still needs to do so-called controlled burns of brush at Makua Valley to complete its required and long-overdue environmental impact statement, a spokesman said yesterday.
Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, 25th Division spokesman, said these controlled brush fires are needed to clear key areas of the 4,190-acre Makua Military Range so the Army can complete its cultural assessment of an area that some Hawaii groups believe is sacred ground. He would not say how many more controlled burns would be needed.
Controlled burns at Makua have been a major problem for the Army. In July 2003, under what was supposed to be strict controls, about 2,100 acres were torched when a controlled burn of a planned 500 acres got out of control. The fire destroyed at least 71 endangered plants and 150 acres of designated critical habitat.
Donnelly said when future controlled burns are done will depend on favorable weather conditions.
He said Army officials hope that by this spring they will complete the detailed environmental study, which was required as part of a 2001 court agreement with Malama Makua, a group of citizens who oppose the military's use of Makua as a training ground.
The 2001 settlement allowed the Army to continue limited training in Makua Valley for three years but stipulated that it had to complete an environmental impact study for any additional use.
Yesterday, for the first time since August 2004, soldiers returned for ground training at Makua. But the more than 150 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team -- from 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment's Alpha, Delta and Headquarters & Headquarters companies -- were not allowed to fire live ammunition, just blanks.
On Feb. 2, District Judge Susan Mollway denied an Army request to resume live-fire training, which it said was needed to better prepare the 7,000 soldiers the Tropic Lightning Division will deploy to Iraq this summer. Mollway said the Army 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.
The last time soldiers and Marines were allowed to use live ammunition in Makua was in August 2004. The valley has been used since then only by Schofield Barracks aviators practicing aerial maneuvers.
Donnelly said the use of live ammunition is the final step in a lengthy training process that includes sessions using blank ammunition, such as the deliberate raid on a suspected terrorist stronghold that occurred yesterday morning. The final phase is the use of live ammunition.
"Live fire is the most challenging and the best preparation for soldiers on the battlefield," he said.