GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Stryker Combat Team soldiers assigned to C Troop, 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry, stormed a mock Iraqi city building at Schofield Barracks last week. The soldiers will train at the National Training Center in California's Mojave Desert later this year in final preparation for yearlong duty in Iraq. CLICK FOR LARGE
Army to resume Stryker training
A federal suit had halted construction and GIs' preparation
After a nearly two-month delay caused by a federal court lawsuit, the Army this week will restart construction and training related to the Stryker combat vehicle.
The construction projects, however, will be limited to five -- four at Schofield Barracks and one at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area -- allowed under a federal court order issued last month, according to Ron Borne, who manages the Stryker transformation program.
The Army successfully argued in court that completion of the construction projects is needed to prepare the 25th Infantry Division's 3,500-member 2nd Brigade Combat Team to fight in Iraq beginning in the late fall as a Stryker combat unit. A total of 28 Stryker related construction projects, totaling $693 million, are planned.
At the same time, the Army Environmental Command in Maryland is preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement studying the possibility of basing the Stryker combat unit in other possible locations besides Hawaii, such as Alaska, Washington, Colorado and Kentucky. Both Alaska and Washington already house Stryker brigades.
Earthjustice, representing Ilioulaokalani Coalition, Na Imi Pono and Kipuka, went to federal court in 2005 and challenged the results of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team's environmental impact statement. In October, a federal appeals panel said the Army's environmental study was inadequate because bases outside Hawaii had not been studied.
Four years ago, Schofield Barracks was selected by Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army's chief of staff, as the home of the Army's fifth, $1.5 billion Stryker brigade. However, Hawaiian and anti-war activists successfully challenged the validity of the Army's environmental impact statement, resulting in another review of Stryker bases.
Borne said one of the requested projects -- a $4.5 million motor vehicle wash facility at East Range -- is already completed.
Work will begin this week on:
» a 1,000-acre live-fire complex that would allow soldiers to fire weapons ranging from pistols to machine guns from stationary positions. That project is 90 percent completed and only needs to have targets built.
» a $49 million, 400-acre motor pool that is 50 percent completed. The second phase involves construction of a warehouse. When completed it will house the 1,200 vehicles belonging to the Stryker brigade.
» a $24 million "deployed facility" at Wheeler Army Airfield that is 50 percent completed. The facilities will be used to weigh and prepare vehicles for shipment.
» an interim gunnery range at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area, where Stryker 105 mm cannon crews can practice their marksmanship skills. Construction will begin at the end of the month.
» a $5.8 million urban assault course that is 70 percent completed. The course will encompass five buildings where soldiers will learn how to clear structures using live ammunition. There also will be a facility where soldiers will be taught techniques in breaching walls.
"All of these projects," Borne said, "have court-imposed mitigations to ensure the best management practices for roadways when we drive off the roads and protection of cultural and natural sites."
Borne said the Stryker brigade so far has received 162 of the 319 eight-wheeled vehicles assigned to the unit.
"We were receiving 10 to 15 vehicles a month," Borne said, "until the injunction stopped all shipments."
There was minimal impact on classroom training because the soldiers could still attend classes on general soldiering skills not related to the Stryker brigade, Borne said.
Lt. Col. David Davidson, commander of the 2nd Brigade's 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry, said his unit, which would normally provide reconnaissance and intelligence information for the brigade, continued to train as an infantry unit to match the missions it would undertake while in Iraq.
"We moved away from what would be the traditional scout role -- watch and report -- to a more direct action role where we will be physically involved in it," said Davidson as he observed C Troop practice clearing one floor of a building at Schofield Barracks' mock Iraqi village last week.
Davidson acknowledged that this type of training was brought about not only by the war in Iraq, "but also an evolution on how the Army functions."
Pvt. Brian Kelso, who has been in the Army for two years, said he has gone through the urban assault course several times.
Pvt. Russell Williams, 20, a cavalry scout like Kelso, said, "It's great training," he said. "It's interesting. It's fun and it's going to save our lives. It's an adrenaline rush."
The cavalry unit will spend next month at Pohakuloa and then go to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in Southern California's Mojave Desert to undergo its final test and certification before deploying to Iraq.