GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sgt. Maj. Kent Mace moved his wife, Christina, and their daughter, Sadie Mae, into one of 30 new homes in Aliamanu Military Reservation just a few days after arriving in October from Fort Hood, Texas.
Vets coming home to new houses
More than 2,000 new houses are being built at various Oahu sites for the Army's families
Sgt. Maj. Kent Mace and his family will celebrate his first Thanksgiving in Hawaii in one of the Army's newest three-bedroom, air-conditioned homes in Aliamanu Crater.
Spc. Isaac Drungo hopes to be able to move his wife and two pre-teenage children from Fort Shafter to Aliamanu before his 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team leaves for Iraq on Dec. 8.
The two Army families attended the blessing of the first of more than 2,000 new homes that will be built at Aliamanu Military Reservation, Fort Shafter, Tripler Army Medical Center and Red Hill. Over the next six months the Army expects to complete nearly 100 homes every month under a 50-year private partnership that began three years ago with Actus Lend Lease.
Nearly 70 percent of the homes will be equipped with photovoltaic and solar-power systems, reducing the Army's electrical bill.
The $2.33 billion 10-year initial development period includes the construction of more than 5,000 homes, nine community centers, and the renovation and restoration of 2,500 homes. The homes will be managed by the Army Hawaii Family Housing program.
It is part of a $40 billion program to fund family support programs, ranging from new homes to child care facilities and support for wounded returning soldiers.
At Thursday's blessing ceremony, Col. Matthew Margotta, commander of U.S. Army Garrison, Hawaii, said the program at Schofield Barracks alone will include:
» $720,000 for a Soldier and Family Assistance Center to provide critical support services to wounded warriors and their families with a staff of nine people.
» $30 million to build a new 175,000-square-foot post exchange.
» $930,000 to renovate Schofield's main post chapel.
» $1.3 million to hire 33 family readiness support assistants to help families while their spouses are deployed. Previously, all of these positions were filled by volunteers.
» $12.5 million for a child-care center designed for 195 children ages 6-10.
The plans also call for $12 million for a new 200-seat Fort Shafter chapel.
Jeff Cangemi, project director for Actus, said 60 percent to 70 percent of the new Army homes will be equipped with photovoltaic panels, which will enable the Army to receive energy credits from Hawaiian Electric for producing its own electricity.
Cangemi said the Army Hawaii Family Housing office has hired 250 civilians to manage the housing program.
An additional 200 to 300 civilians, hired by local subcontractors, will be at work daily during the construction phase at various Army posts on Oahu under the Army's largest military housing privatization project to date, Cangemi added.
Sgt. Maj. Mace acknowledged that during the 24 years he has been in the Army and after living on five different Army posts, including installations in Germany and South Korea, adequate housing for married soldiers has always been an overriding concern.
"It's really tough for young soldiers with three or four kids, who many times have been forced to live off post," he said. "It really affects lower-ranking enlisted soldiers and the bottom line (is) it affects mission readiness of the unit."
His wife, Christina, who had been monitoring the Army's housing construction program on Oahu via the Internet from Fort Hood, Texas, expected a long wait. "But within 72 hours after arriving here in October, we got our new home," she said.
They are renting furniture until their household goods arrive from the mainland. "It's going (to) be here by Thanksgiving," Sgt. Maj. Mace added.
Christina said she is impressed by the way the homes in Aliamanu are constructed. "The attention to detail is exceptional," she added.
"This by far is the best," said Sgt. Maj. Mace, who is assigned to the munitions division at the 8th Theater Support Command.
Spc. Drungo and his wife, Rainelle, attended Thursday's brief blessing ceremony to get a preview of their new home.
"This very refreshing," Rainelle Drungo said as she inspected the master bedroom and adjoining bathroom. "I love the hardwood floors and the separate formal living and family rooms."