Army exit would devastate Wahiawa

By Scott Harada, Star-Advertiser: Island Voices, 1/19/2015

In 1938, a young businesswoman had the idea of opening an outdoor roller-skating rink in Wahiawa. As the military population grew, it proved a smart economic decision.

A year later, she opened a restaurant next door to feed the customers. A few years later, the country was at war and due to the lower population, the rink had to cease operating. However, the restaurant continued to serve those soldiers who were ‘not deployed, nearby workers and families in the community.

That businesswoman is my great-aunt, Marian T. Harada. That restaurant is Dot’s Drive Inn. Today, Dot’s and Marian’s Catering are still serving the Wahiawa and surrounding communities and businesses in Central Oahu. But we wouldn’t be here without the loyal and constant support of our community. That includes the soldiers at Schofield Barracks and their families.

A proposal that would cut almost 20,000 soldiers and civilian workers from both Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter — 16,200 from Schofield alone — is a very scary situation. Businesses nearby will be devastated by the loss of those soldiers and their families. They are a part of our community, they dine at our restaurants, they shop at our markets, and volunteer at the events and activities that brand our community.

Every time soldiers at Schofield are deployed, businesses in Wahiawa suffer. In 2004, when about 10,000 soldiers were in Iraq and Afghanistan, some businesses reported drops of 30 percent or greater. The results were detrimental to our small businesses and our community. Workers had to be laid off. Some owners had to pursue other opportunities. Dentist offices, dry cleaners, seamstresses, auto repair shops, hair salons, restaurants — no one was immune to the effects of the deployment.

History has shown it’ll always happen. Just look at our own family business. Our roller-skating rink was doing well enough for us to start an accompanying restaurant.

Then the war happened and there simply wasn’t enough business to continue an activity that brought people together. What do you think will happen if these soldiers leave permanently?

Some may criticize us and say that these businesses need to diversify and not be so dependent on the military. This may be true, but our town grew alongside the growth of the bases. The Army is more than just a customer; they are our neighbors, friends and relatives. Throughout the generations, interdependence and brotherhood with our military are always present.

Research shows that in nearby neighborhoods, soldiers and their families can range from 30 to 50 percent of the population. So, asking us not to be dependent on our military customers is just like asking businesses in Waikiki to not depend on tourists.

But unlike tourists, these soldiers may not come back. Ever. Anxiety is high. Some of our businesses will not be able to sustain this impact. From this we easily see the economic domino effect touch every aspect of the community.

Soldiers and their families are as much a part of our community as we are. In addition, they are the reason for you and me being able to live and enjoy our lives freely as we wish each and every day.

We all want the best for ourselves, our children and our community. We all live, work and play here.

We are so proud to say that whenever our communities needed help, the U.S. Army was always there and one of the first to volunteer.