Judge warms to Stryker preparations
A federal judge said yesterday he would likely allow an Army Stryker Brigade to continue setting up in Hawaii in preparation for deployment to Iraq next year, but would probably impose some restrictions to comply with environmental laws.
Hawaiian groups are suing to block the brigade, saying construction work and training for the unit desecrate cultural sites and harm the environment.
The Army counters it must be allowed to prepare the new Schofield Barracks brigade before it sends the troops to war as planned next November. Not being able to train the unit properly will jeopardize soldiers' lives, the Army says.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he would rule on the issue as soon as possible.
"There are no absolutes in this case," Ezra told a packed courtroom filled with about 40 soldiers in camouflage uniforms and roughly a dozen Hawaiian activists.
"There's no question there will be some activities the Army won't be permitted to engage in," Ezra said. "But there's no question there are some activities the Army will be allowed to engage in."
Ezra's consideration of the case comes after the 9th Circuit Court issued a temporary injunction in October against Stryker Brigade construction work and training in Hawaii.
The court said the Army violated federal environmental law by failing to consider locations other than the islands for the unit.
Ezra must determine the scope of the circuit court's temporary injunction halting work on the brigade.
Emotions ran high on both sides after the hearing.
Col. Bob Brown, who commanded a Stryker brigade in Iraq for a year, told reporters that Stryker vehicles saved soldiers' lives.
"It just makes me sick that folks would argue that you don't want to protect our soldiers," Brown said. "That's almost criminal."
Vicky Holt Takamine, who heads one of the organizations suing the Army, told Brown it was "unacceptable" to accuse Hawaiian groups of not caring about soldiers' lives.
"You need to comply with your own laws. You don't comply, we're there to catch you on it," said Takamine, president of the Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition. "That's what this case is about."
Earthjustice lawyer David Henkin, who represents the three groups that filed the suit, told Ezra the Army's plans for the Stryker brigade might cause more environmental damage than the 2nd Brigade Combat Team the Stryker unit is replacing.
He said the possibility of irreparable harm made the brigade's establishment illegal under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The other two groups suing the Army are Na Imi Pono and Kipuka.
James Jett, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer arguing the case for the Army, said if the Schofield brigade could not go to Iraq, another unit would have to stay longer, or some other brigade would have to deploy earlier than planned.
Either alternative would put inadequately rested and trained soldiers in the field, he said.
He rejected the idea of having the brigade train somewhere else, like Washington or Alaska, where the Army has already set up Stryker units.