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Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Military may reduce
civilian rides on jets,
copters, ships

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Bullet Families leave isles
Bullet Civilians interfered
Bullet Court to Monday
Bullet Apology to Akihito
Bullet Prime minister's golf
Bullet Joyrides curtailed

Karen Knudsen, a Honolulu Board of Education member, recalls being strapped into the jump seat between the pilot and co-pilot of the Air Force jet she was riding as it took off from Guam last year.

"I had a headgear on," Knudsen said, "and I was strapped in pretty good."

There wasn't much she could do during that long jet flight to Asia from Hickam Air Force Base in November as a participant of the Air Force's civic leader's tour designed to give 13 Hawaii community leaders a feel of what the Air Force does.

Such public relations and educational tours have come under scrutiny since the Feb. 9 collision between the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville and Japanese teaching trawler Ehime Maru.

The Greeneville's skipper -- Cmdr. Scott Waddle -- was demonstrating an emergency surfacing maneuver to 16 civilians.

Two of the 16 civilians were sitting at key control positions during what is called an emergency main ballast tank blow, but the Navy maintains that they were always under close and constant supervision.

Pending the outcome of an investigation, the Navy has ordered its submarine commanders not to allow civilians to operate controls or conduct emergency ascents with civilians aboard.

Yesterday, the Army issued a similar order barring civilians temporarily from its aircraft, tanks and other tactical vehicles.

Army Maj. Cynthia Teramae, 25th Infantry Division spokeswoman, said the order forced the postponement of an aerial trip planned for next month where the Army wanted to take North Shore Neighborhood Board members on Black Hawk helicopters to demonstrate its noise abatement procedures.

Tactical vehicles, such as Humvees, were used to carry civilians into Makua Valley, which is now a major site of disagreement with many Leeward Coast residents.

"Our community relations program," Teramae said, "is geared to tell the Army story and its mission in the Pacific. This will probably put a crimp into it and we will have to look for other avenues."

But putting civilians into tactical vehicles and Army helicopters is a necessary part of its attempt to "to give civilians a feel of what soldiers experience," Teramae said.

Air Force Maj. Bill Harrison, Pacific Air Force spokesman, said there have been no changes made regarding civilians.

Knudsen was among the 30 island community leaders that participated in one of two Air Force trips last year that focused on taking Hawaii's educational leaders and friends of the Air Force to Asian bases.

Knudsen and 12 other local community leaders, mostly educational people such as principals and Department of Education officials, were flown in a KC-135 jet, which was reconfigured to accommodate Air Force generals and VIPs.

The group visited Guam, Okinawa and South Korea in five days in November.

Another group of 17 principals, teachers, guidance counselors and Air Force supporters flew on a KC-135 jet tanker in August, visiting Misawa Air Force Base in northern Japan and Yokota Air Force Base, 25 miles west of Tokyo.

Maj. Tina Barber-Matthew, 15th Air Base Wing spokeswoman at Hickam, said that group also was allowed to sit in the jump seat between the pilot and co-pilot to observe flight operations.

They also were allowed to lie along side the boom operator in the tail of the tanker to watch as he refueled jets over the Pacific.

Capt. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii Army National Guard spokesman, said 35 local business leaders last July were flown to San Diego in a Hawaii Air National Guard KC-135 jet tanker as part of the National Guard's "Bosslift" program.

"Employers were from all reserve components," Anthony said.

"They visited multiple reserve component training in and around San Diego."

In August, 15 employers of Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers were taken by the Guard's C-26 passenger plane from Oahu to the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area and then flown by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to visit their employees in the field, Anthony said.

Knudsen said she found her Air Force Asia trip to be "a very valuable experience."

"We visited Department of Defense schools on the bases, watched military operations and saw a lot of equipment.

"It was worthwhile to visit these military schools because we have such a high number of military families here.

"It also helped to see the stresses military families have to go through."

Knudsen said she came back "with a much better understanding on the expectations we have placed on military personnel. These are our tax dollars. It will be too bad if we have to stop these tours."

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