A Love-Hate Relationship with Military
By Bob Jones
This is the week the Army hosts some “listening to you” sessions about the future of the military presence in Hawaii.
USARPAC Gen. Vincent Brooks and 25th Division Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn each will get an earful. Not all of it flattering. Many Hawaiians want them gone from Makua Valley on Oahu and Pohakuloa on Hawaii Island. People have long memories of live artillery rounds that found their way over the mountains into Waianae.
Lots of big money figures will be tossed out about military spending here, and the pluses and minuses of removing maybe 50,000 soldiers, family members and civilian workers from Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter and Wheeler Army Airfield.
That’s because of the budget cuts and the end of major-unit deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I wish I could offer you a straight thumbs-up or thumbs-down opinion as guidance. I can’t.
It does seem foolish to precipitously show the military the door when we have little other than always-vulnerable tourism to fuel our economy. That’s kissing off many billions of dollars.
Yet I’m sympathetic with those who envision the good use we might make of the surplus land and all that military housing.
But I say “might” because I’ve not seen full-fledged use by the state of the old Barbers Point Naval Air
Station. Could we afford to inherit Schofield, Shafter and Wheeler?
Frankly, Hawaii is a much more essential forward operating base for the Navy than for the Army, Marines or Air Force. The others could relocate to the West Coast with no loss of deployment time or strategic advantage.
But the infrastructure is here, and it would seem foolish to juggle it elsewhere unless we get some tremendous gift.
I don’t see that.
We’d lose construction projects and jobs. We’d lose the military’s give-back-to-community projects. Small businesses in Wahiawa would be devastated for years until there was some redevelopment of Schofield.
Yes, we should reclaim Makua Valley as a place for hiking and camping. No, there’d be no advantage in ending military use of Pohakuloa’s lava fields as a training area.
It’s given us that Daniel K. Inouye Highway from the Kona side and there’s plenty of other hiking and camping room.
Yes, we probably should have Wheeler Army Airfield as a general aviation airport for Oahu. Can the state afford to improve and operate it?
If the answer is yes, then go for it.
There’s always been a certain amount of anti-military feeling here. They’re not us. They come for a couple of years and split. They shop at commissaries and gas up on base. Some rent off base but the lower ranks live on base. They’re different.
But, oh, the howls when they’ve all deployed and left Wahiawa, Kailua and Kaneohe as ghost towns!
So, on balance, I’d probably testify that for now we’re better off with them than without them.