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Home Sweet Home

A bold personnel initiative, which fundamentally transforms the way the Army works, fights and lives, may also alter the Island’s economic and social landscape

THE HOMEFRONT: In the Islands only a month and a half, the Kovach family, Jonathan, Tammy and their three sons, have decided to put down some deep roots in Hawaii. photo: Scott Kubo
Last February, on the first day that she and her family moved into their new quarters on the grounds of Wheeler Army Airfield, Tammy Kovach unpacked a few boxes and then headed out the front door. The Army wife wanted to acquaint herself with her new home, so, for the next week, she walked the streets of her neighborhood and those of nearby Schofield Barracks, where her husband is stationed.

Kovach is new to Hawaii and the Army but not to the military. Her husband, Jonathan, a specialist with the 3rd Brigade Infantry Combat Team, has also served in the U.S. Navy as well as the Air Force, and Tammy has found that exploring on foot is the fastest and easiest way to acclimate herself to a new place. She is also a self-confessed “skeptical driver.”

Walking around her new home, Tammy liked what she saw.

“I’ve never been to a place that is as family oriented as Hawaii is,” says Tammy, who has also investigated much of Honolulu and the nearby North Shore communities with her family. “I come from San Antonio, which is a busy place with a lot of tourism like Honolulu, but it’s nothing like this. My kids have more opportunities within a 15- to 20-minute drive than they ever had.”

After living in Hawaii for only a month and a half (and just about 80 percent unpacked, according to Tammy), the Kovachs have put down some Island roots. Tammy has already interviewed for a job in Honolulu, and she’s looking into completing her college degree at one of Oahu’s universities. Meanwhile, Jonathan has been studying the local real estate market and is intent on buying a home (the family’s first) in a year or so, after he returns from a probable deployment to Iraq in August.

“My tour here is for three years, but as soon as I can, I’ll be putting in for another three,” says Jonathan. “My thinking is that I’m going to do whatever I can to have a home in Hawaii.

“But also, my main concern is my family,” continues Jonathan. “My stresses don’t come from work as much as they do from worrying that my family is being taken care of. I’ve had the best experience here in Hawaii – some of the best programs and some of the nicest people. This is the place I want to come home to.”

Stable and Secure

The Kovachs’ decision to settle down in Hawaii as quickly and as thoroughly as they have is atypical at Schofield and most U.S. Army bases throughout the country. According to the Department of the Army, soldiers typically average a three-year stay at their initial installation. In addition, over the course of a 30-year career, most soldiers and their families will have moved more than a dozen times. During that period, the soldiers will likely have had even more new jobs than new homes.

However, the Kovachs’ experience may soon be standard operating procedure for Army personnel and their dependents relocating to new homes. In response to the need for a more versatile and specialized fighting force, in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2004, the Department of the Army began implementing Force Stabilization, a bold initiative that fundamentally reshapes the way the Army works, fights and lives. In a nutshell, the plan, which consists of two complementary manning initiatives, “stabilizes” soldiers and their families by placing and leaving them in their residences and jobs for significantly longer periods of time.

The first initiative, called Home-basing allows soldiers and their families to be based at their initial installations for six to seven years, more than double the current average. As a result, Army personnel and their families will be able to establish deeper ties to the community and reap some of the social and economic benefits of being longer-term residents. For instance, children of a Home-based family will have moretime to settle into local schools, spending their academic years in only a couple of institutions, rather than half a dozen. Also, spouses will have greater opportunities to establish and advance their careers, instead of starting over every two or three years.

Finally, with a significantly longer stay in one location, more soldiers and their families are likely to purchase homes, which in turn will have a greater chance of appreciating in value.

The second component of Force Stabilization addresses how the soldier works and fights. In Unit Focused Stability, soldiers can expect to be stationed at one installation through the position of squad leader or company commander. Leaders will attend professional development schools in a temporary travel status and, once finished, return to their families and their Home-base installation. Therefore, soldiers will no longer be individually rotated in and out of units, which has been a constant logistical nightmare for the service. According to the Army, in a typical year, out of approximately 190,000 personnel, 80,000 recruits join up, another 110,000 soldiers are reassigned, while another 80,000 or so retire or leave at the end of their enlistments.

Now, soldiers will be reassigned as groups, during predetermined “reset” phases. Thus, Force Stabilization not only gives the soldier a more predictable and consistent personal and professional life, it also promises to create and maintain a more cohesive fighting force.

In other words, a happier soldier is a better soldier and a better soldier makes a better Army.

“With the newer technology, you need to give soldiers more time to train and familiarize themselves with the equipment. Once you have a soldier trained, you want him to stay awhile and not pick up and go somewhere else, then have someone else step in and begin the process all over again,” says Kendrick Washington, media relations officer, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. “It [Force Stabilization] has been in the works for a number of years. It will be a gradual process, like the way we phase in uniforms.”

The Army implemented Force Stabilization with its newer and more technical units, beginning with the 172nd Brigade Combat Team in FY ’04, and is slowly being phased in throughout the Army. Schofield’s more than 2,000-person-strong 2nd Brigade Combat Team, or 2nd Stryker Brigade, has not been officially stabilized yet. The rest of Hawaii’s Army forces will follow in a time period the Army cannot disclose.

YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW: A handful of the literature distributed by the support center Army Community Service, which help soldiers and their families adjust to their new lives.

Home Sweet Home

Force Stabilization represents an about-face for the Army, whose nearly century-old personnel system valued the “diversity of experience” that came with frequent postings and discouraged “homesteading” by its soldiers. But what does it mean for the community at large? Maybe a lot, especially for towns and cities like Honolulu, which are closely tied to the military.

Schofield Barracks is home to two brigades of the 25th Infantry Division and their supporting units. There are approximately 14,000 military personnel as well as 2,000 civilian employees who work and train at Schofield with 21,000 soldiers and their dependents living on base. Home-basing does not increase the number of personnel, or overall Army expenditures. However, if Army planners are correct, Home-basing will alter how soldiers and their dependents live and spend.

“I can’t give you a statistical guideline, but economically, you’ll likely see an increase in the purchase of big-ticket items, things like cars and durable goods such as refrigerators, washers and dryers,” says Lawrence Boyd, a labor economist with the University of West Oahu’s Center for Labor Education and Research. “But the biggest economic impact may be in an area that we can least afford it – housing. More people will be buying, which will likely push prices a little higher.”

According to Boyd, a seven-year posting in Hawaii makes purchasing a home especially attractive for a relocated soldier. Coincidently, seven years is the average length of time that homeowners hold onto their houses before reselling them. Usually, in seven years, they have paid off enough interest on their mortgages while their houses have built up enough equity to enable them to trade up and move on.

Boyd, who last year sold his apartment to an Army captain, points out that Home-basing will probably have a positive social effect: “This is just an impressionistic thing, but I have a strong feeling that there will be much more engagement with the community,” says Boyd. “The military here in many ways is isolated in little communities. If personnel and their families are staying here for much longer periods of time and have more stable lives, there will be more social participation, such as voting in local elections, volunteering and maybe even more marriages. It’s hard to tell at this point.”

Bill Kaneko, president and chief executive officer, Hawaii Institute of Public Affairs (HIPA), a nonprofit public policy think tank, agrees that predicting the possible impact of a change in military policy is pure guesswork. But he adds that most estimates of the military’s overall impact on Hawaii aren’t much more definitive. Kaneko says that there are plenty of data floating around, but there isn’t a public receptacle for it, nor has anyone calculated a comprehensive impact. The military has always been Hawaii’s 800-pound gorilla, a largely overlooked fact of Island life that is rarely fully appreciated. According to Kaneko, a full accounting of the military’s impact, its costs as well as its contributions, may reveal that it is bigger and more influential than anyone imagined.

“DBEDT [Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism] puts out data on federal spending and how it is the second largest industry in Hawaii, but aside from that you don’t have a broad understanding of what the specific details are,” says Kaneko. I don’t even think our decision makers have a very broad and quantifiable understanding.”

Kaneko wants to create such an understanding. This legislative session he has applied for a state grant to fund a comprehensive analysis of the economic, environmental and social impact of Hawaii’s military. The multiyear project, one of the largest undertaken by HIPA, will collect and crunch a long laundry list of statistics and studies, everything from an inventory of military lands and projects to analyses of impacts on health care, housing, schools, public facilities and even the number of dollars and hours of service military personnel donate to charitable organizations.

“To be fair, when we’re all done, we may find that the military’s impact in Hawaii isn’t as big as we thought,” says Kaneko. “But my gut feeling is that won’t be the case. Either way, big or really big, we need to know. Three of our congressional delegation [Sen. Daniel Inouye, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Rep. Neil Abercrombie] are nicely positioned in their respective armed services committees. That landscape is going to shift.”

According to Kaneko, the 50-year, multibillion effort to privatize much of Hawaii’s military housing is an example of a public-private sector partnership, which has long-term economic benefits for the community at large.

“The sleeper was the housing privatization and that 50-year contract to not only allow the private sector to build homes but maintain them as well. That really started to open people’s eyes, made them realize the long-term impact of working closely with the military,” says Kaneko. “Now, if soldiers and their families are going to be staying here longer that’s a good thing, too. It [Home-basing] creates residents and a mindset that you are here and you are a part of the community. That’s good from a public-policy standpoint, but it’s also good for Army personnel.”

The Home Front

Back at Schofield, Tammy Kovach has the next several years all mapped out for herself and her family. At the end of their probable six-year posting in Hawaii, she hopes to have a bachelor’s degree in management and be well on her way to getting her MBA. She also wants to travel throughout the Islands with her family and is looking forward to the day when she can drive through the streets of Honolulu without fear of getting lost.

In the meantime, Tammy has a lot of other things to take care of. Jonathan will likely be leaving for Iraq in August. It will be his second tour there. After returning home for six months, he might be going back to Iraqi again. “Those first couple of weeks are the hardest, especially for the kids.” says Tammy. “But when he gets back, I’ll have a job and be in school. So when I greet him, I’ll have money saved, vacation time, an associate degree and then I’ll give him a big kiss.”

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