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Will adding thousands of soldiers of Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks be good for Hawaii?

 Charlie Ota

The Army’s recent proposal to add thousands of soldiers to Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks should give us all serious pause. While some hope for financial gain, the Army’s own studies of similar buildups in the past have consistently found insignificant economic benefit to the Islands. Moreover, nonmilitary residential and commercial projects suffer when shortages of material bought for military projects drive up costs for everyone else in our local economy.

Less quantifiable — but no less important — is the toll increased military construction and training take on Hawaii’s cultural and natural heritage. The Army’s track record protecting these public trust resources is poor. Recent construction of Stryker training facilities at Schofield Barracks destroyed centuries-old petroglyphs and damaged the Haleauau Heiau, inflicting severe cultural harm. Misfired bullets, mortars and artillery shells have damaged other sacred sites, and live-fire training has repeatedly sparked fires that have killed endangered Hawaiian animals and plants, pushing them closer to extinction.

If the Army proceeds with proposed construction of yet more training ranges and increases in training, Hawaii will lose additional, irreplaceable cultural and biological treasures.We cannot view the latest proposed troop increase in isolation. Recent growth in military stationed in Hawaii — and their dependents — has placed an ever-increasing strain on housing, schools and traffic. With the military already occupying a quarter of Oahu, Hawaii has reached its carrying capacity.

The question is not whether the military will remain, but what kind of military presence is appropriate for our small Islands, with finite resources, fragile cultural sites and imperiled native ecosystems. More
bombing, which renders training areas unusable for any other purpose, is not the highest and best use of Hawaii’s limited land, which can reap far greater returns — financial and social — when devoted to housing and feeding Hawaii’s people, recreation, tourism and other nondestructive activities.
This is a hypothetical question, as the U.S. Army has not made a final decision to add thousands more soldiers in Hawaii. But changes are being made to tranform the Army and the rest of the military to meet the security challenges for the 21st century.

The Army is in the midst of transforming its war-fighting units into highly mobile modular units called “brigade combat teams.” This is happening in Hawaii with the units under the 25th Infantry Division and Hawaii Army National Guard.

Forward basing units in Hawaii, Guam and Japan enable the military to provide for the security of our homeland and the Asia Pacific region.

The visible presence of these forces serves to maintain peace and
stability in the Asia Pacific by deterring acts of aggression. Potential
enemies are well aware that our forward-based forces have lethal war-fighting capabilities and are ready for rapid deployment in joining our security partners in the region.

While this force posture is dictated by our National Security and Defense Strategies, it is very important for Hawaii.

Because the military has succeeded and continues to succeed in deterring acts of aggression, peace prevails. The sea lanes and airways remain open for commerce and trade. Hawaii’s economy thrives as the global economy grows.

Military expenditures in Hawaii approach $6 billion annually, translating to $10 billion for the economy and 120,000 jobs for residents.

Much of Hawaii’s roots are in the Asia Pacific. We find comfort in knowing that the people live in peace.

Moreover, the military provides disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and emergency aid to our partners, and provides for the security of Americans living and traveling abroad.

The benefits to Hawaii’s residents are incalculable.

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Hawaii Business,May