Monday, April 2, 2001


Army says Makua
loss already felt

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The 25th Infantry Division is "combat ready," but time is working against its ability to fight each day it is not able to train in Makua Valley, says its chief of staff.

Col. Jim Kelley said he has seen degradation in the readiness of some of its units since training in the valley stopped in 1998.

The New York Times has reported that the Army has downgraded one of its 10 active-duty divisions to the second-lowest rating for wartime readiness, citing a lack of training and personnel caused by peacekeeping work in the Balkans. The Pentagon said the Army expected "some degradation of combat skills" in the 3rd Infantry as a result of the peacekeeping deployment. The Pentagon official added that any decline could be made up by intensive training after the peacekeeping mission ends.

Like the 25th Division, the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., is a capable and well-equipped force. But 4,000 of its soldiers have been in Bosnia since October on peacekeeping duty and unavailable for combat training.

In late 1999, two other active-duty divisions -- the 10th Mountain and the 1st Mechanized Infantry -- were briefly given the Army's lowest rating and deemed not ready for war. Again, the rating was based on their peacekeeping obligations in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The 25th Division, whose major wartime mission is the Korean peninsula and Asia, is slated for Bosnia peacekeeping duties next year and currently is hampered from undergoing key company-level training in the islands. An Army infantry company with 150 soldiers is considered the basic front-line combat force.

The Army requires that the 25th Division's 18 companies annually test their abilities to work with artillery, aviation and engineering units.

After the Army was forced to suspend that type of training in Makua, only four of the division's 18 companies were able to undertake the combined-arms live-fire training on the mainland.

That number climbed to eight last year with another eight companies projected to go to the mainland this year.

"Our readiness level is eroding," said Brig. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, deputy 25th Division commander.

Lt. Col. Mike Coss, a 25th Division battalion commander, said readiness is not the only issue. The problem also deals with giving junior leaders the best training as company commanders.

"The true test is, if this company commander has to face a hostile enemy," Coss said, "would he be able to put it together? I am not confident that he would be able to put all of these things together unless he practices first."

The Army in December released a supplemental environmental assessment proposing to resume training in Makua Valley with fewer soldiers -- 150 compared with 600 in the past. Also, the Army says it will use ammunition less likely to cause fires.

The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund has filed a federal suit intended to force the Army to undertake an environmental impact statement.

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