On balance, Army in Hawaii is a positive

By Thomas D. Farrell, Star Advertiser 11/23/2014

Is the Army a good deal for Hawaii?

Frankly, I don’t care. There are burdens and benefits to hosting military installations, but we’re all in this together. Other than paying taxes, the United States doesn’t ask much of the average American when it comes to supporting the nation’s defense. Living with Schofield Barracks doesn’t seem too much to bear.

Some complain that the Army is a losing economic proposition for Hawaii. A retired Army colonel recently complained in these pages that the state Department of Education spent $115 million “out of pocket” to educate 11,000 Army dependents last year. That’s about 6 percent of DOE’s $1.7 billion budget, of which over 12 percent comes from the U.S. government. That included $43.3 million in federal impact funds.

Some argue that Army lands could be returned to productive civilian use. To do what? Build more golf courses or million-dollar houses? Former military property cannot be readily transformed to civilian use without enormous investment. The Navy, for example, spent over $460 million cleaning up Kahoolawe.

Others point out that much of the military’s payroll is spent at its own exchanges and commissaries, instead of in the community. Perhaps that’s true, but shutting down Schofield Barracks won’t divert more of the military payroll into the community because the military payroll will be gone.

Is Hawaii a good deal for the Army?

Army leaders often complain about limits on training on Oahu imposed by safety and environmental concerns. However, the Army’s model for combined arms live-fire training is to send brigades from bases all over the mainland, Alaska and Hawaii to National Training Centers in California and Louisiana. Sending them from Hawaii isn’t much different than sending them from other places.

Hawaii also has a big training advantage: weather. There aren’t many days in Hawaii that weather shuts down training. We also have mountains and jungles. Combat brigades need to train in all kinds of places. On balance, training in Hawaii is a plus.

Hawaii also makes sense as a base for deployment. Soldiers and light equipment usually deploy by chartered civilian aircraft. Moving a brigade through Hickam and HNL wouldn’t even count as a busy day. Vehicles, helicopters, heavy equipment and most supplies go by ship. Steaming time is cut in half by deploying from the middle of the Pacific instead of the West Coast.

Critics will point out that you have to get the ships and planes to Hawaii, first. That’s true, but the deployment of combat brigades is seldom a no-notice affair. For the rare occasions when it is, we have the 82nd Airborne Division, and we have ground forces deployed in places like Korea and Okinawa.

It may be more expensive to house soldiers in Hawaii, but there is a cost to moving them elsewhere. That cost is the rebuilding of infrastructure: barracks, training ranges, motor-pools, schools, family housing — the list goes on and on. Cutting forces is one thing, but restationing is another. Restationing is no way to save money.

For better or worse, the Army is going to downsize, and no place will be spared, including Hawaii. The Army may cut up to 20,000 soldiers from Oahu in 2015.

Some think we should rush to embrace a smaller Army presence here.

Not me.