By Sherry Menor-McNamara and Dave Carey, Star Advertiser 12/27/2014
As part of its 2020 force structure realignment, the Army is considering eliminating 19,800 soldiers and civilians from Schofield Barracks (16,606) and Fort Shafter (3,786). In addition to the workers, more than 30,000 family members would be affected. The total is about 5 percent of Honolulu’s total population, with the communities of Wahiawa, Mililani, Haleiwa and Waialua losing the most people.
The direct and indirect impacts of military expenditures are reported to generate $14.7 billion into Hawaii’s economy, creating more than 102,000 jobs for residents who collectively report household incomes around $8.7 billion.
These expenditures have elevated the defense industry and military procurement contracts amount to about $2.3 billion annually, making it a prime source of contracting opportunities for hundreds of Hawaii’s locally owned small businesses. These expenditures touch every sector of our economy from STEM education to housing, construction, retail, health care, agriculture and sustainable energy.
Moreover, according to the Army, these cuts would result in an estimated loss of 20,000 jobs. That would nearly double the state’s unemployment rate — going from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent — and drop us from sixth best to 43rd.
These numbers are staggering. But the loss isn’t only financial. Our small rural communities, such as Wahiawa town, grew alongside with the growth of Schofield Barracks. Soldiers’ spouses are teachers in our public schools, nurses in our community health facilities and hospitals, and volunteers at our community events.
With new base assignments brings new faces, and these new faces bring a global perspective to our island state. They bring critical skills in technical and engineering fields. And they bring youth, vitality and a counterbalance to our aging workforce helping to diversify our economy.
Hawaii does present fiscal challenges. However, is it fair to compare the cost of educating children of our servicemen to the community service hours they spend fixing, painting and maintaining our schools? Or how about the public-private partnership programs that benefit our communities and provide critical programs to our children?
As do our local residents, the military faces a high cost of living, paying higher costs for transportation and training. But with that high cost comes the benefit of being strategically located in the middle of the Pacific and being able to provide security not only to our nation, but to our brothers and sisters in the Asia-Pacific. You cannot put a price tag on the safety and wellbeing of our communities and nation.
Hawaii is a special place. Growing up here in the islands we have always been there for our families, friends and neighbors — and so have our soldiers. It is time we showed our support — support our bases, support our communities.
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