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Pohakuloa: Strykers and a 24,000-acre expansion
by Sebastian Blanco published in the Honolulu Weekly 17 November 2004
After more than two years of repeated attempts to schedule a tour of the military’s Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) on Hawai‘i, activists were finally allowed to visit the site on Oct. 23.
As the belligerati from all over the islands made their way from Kurtistown to Mauna Kea State Park, along the road, on lava floes, we saw enormous construction equipment, oversized dump trucks with tires that dwarf a large person, signs explaining siren warning signals in the blasting area. On the horizon stood the immoveable peaks.
A tour of Pohakuloa was first scheduled back in September 2002, but the Army cancelled it because of the vocal anti-military stance of some of the people on the roster. Two years later, many of the same names were on the list of attendees, and their goal remained the same: to voice opposition to the U.S. Army’s plans to expand the 109,000-acre PTA by about 24,000 acres, along with the conversion of the 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Light) to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The transition, shepherded through the Senate Appropriations Committee in part by Sen. Daniel Inouye, will bring about 300 of the eight-wheeled Strykers to Hawai‘i.
PTA Public Affairs Officer Bob McElroy greeted the group warmly at Mauna Kea State Park, about a mile from the PTA gate. Soon a Roberts Hawaii bus rumbled in to transport the group from the park to the base.
Everyone knew that at the very same moment, activists were on Kaho‘olawe for a cultural reunion. People were visibly tense. Shannon Collier of O‘ahu took pictures of a naked tree.
“I feel like it’s representative of the result of military occupation of Hawai‘i. That’s what they leave us—barren lands,” she said. Her husband, Keli‘i, said that PTA Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Frederick Clarke’s ban on video and audio recording “reinforces a feeling I already have about the U.S.
military and their relationship with the ‘aina, Native Hawaiians and the larger population that calls Hawai‘i home. That feeling is ‘they cannot be trusted.’”
As soon as we boarded the bus, McElroy said, “Col. Clarke does not want any video shot on the installation,” he said. “We do consider this our home, and please respect our wishes on that.” Keli‘i rolled not just his eyes, but his entire head.
The military has been using PTA for target practice since 1956. The first recorded use of the land in PTA by Hawaiians dates back to about 300AD.
Lt. Col. Clarke made his presentation in the impersonal Theater T-91, right inside the main gate. American flag streamers hung above the stage. Although there was coffee in a stainless steel pot, the mood was not friendly.
Clarke said he wanted to make the group “familiar with our mission, why we’re here. I also want to make you familiar with our makeup, because there is a lot of misconceptions about the military.” That was as far as he got before Kyle Kajihiro, of the American Friends Service Committee, interrupted with a question about the video ban.
“This is about an open discussion, the sharing of information and knowledge,” Clarke said. “I have no hidden agenda other than to make you familiar with PTA and share information. The other thing was I wanted to get everybody focused and talking to each other instead of maybe doing a documentary or film, for whatever purpose. Sometimes when I have distractions going on, I start losing focus as to why I’m here.”
Jim Albertini, head of the nonprofit Malu ‘aina peace center and farm, pointed out that it was a contradiction for Clarke to say the meeting was about openness while forbidding group members to take video images of the installation to share with their communities.
“You are making it very difficult right from the start,” said Albertini.
The military defined the visit rules. In March, Albertini had requested two visits, one on a weekday and one on a weekend. Later, he asked for one hour of presentations on general PTA activities, the environmental protection efforts and hazardous-materials dump and burn sites, as well as visits to cultural and environmental areas. Clarke agreed to one visit, which would include three hours of presentations and no site tours, except for a trip to a pu‘u.
Clarke had his talking points in order. He called PTA the “premier training opportunity,” where each year, 15,000 to 20,000 Army and Marine soldiers train. Allied partners are also in the mix. “All weapons of the 25th Infantry Division can be fired here,” he said.
Troops usually spend a week at the base, then go into the field—the vast expanse of pahoehoe and a‘a blanketed with plant life between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa—for a few weeks. Clarke said the troops then “clean up their equipment, wash up everything” before leaving.
Kajihiro pressured Clarke to define just how much clean-up the troops do. “The Impact Area where we fire into is an actively used training area so that area is not cleaned up,” replied Clarke. The 50,000-acre Impact Area makes up almost half of PTA.
The military proudly gives visitors a booklet titled “Pohakuloa Training Area: Understanding its Natural and Cultural Resources.” Inside, we learned that a type of snail, Leptachatina lepida, was discovered in the Multi-Purpose Range Complex southwest of the PTA Impact Area (i.e., where the bombs fall). It is found nowhere else. Also, the palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper that once lived in the Kona uplands and Hualalai, today is found only in Mauna Kea’s Mamane-Naio forests. It is through this forest that the realigned Saddle Road will go.
While the realignment is a Dept. of Transportation project, the military is chipping in $17 million, which Clarke admitted they would not be doing if it did not directly affect PTA.
Activists are concerned about the connections between military build-up and the supposedly independent state project.
Clarke said the realignment happening at this time was a just lucky break for the Army.
The first piece of the four sections [the Dept. of Transportation] decided to realign happens to be inside the installation. There are some benefits to the community to realigning Saddle Road,” he said. Public Affairs Officer McElroy said that the straightening will make the drive safer, and Clarke pointed out that by moving the road further up the slope of Mauna Kea, the military will no longer have to fire over the public road during training. Clarke did not mention that the Kona side of Saddle Road would still be in PTA territory if the 24,000-acre expansion goes through.
Those 24,000 acres belong to Parker Ranch, a longtime supporter of the military. In the early 1940s, owner Richard Smart gave large portions of the ranch to the Marine Corps to use for training. During World War II, there were 25,000 to 50,000 troops on Parker Ranch land.
“We see ourselves as a patriot and a partner [of the military],” said Diane Quitiquit, the ranch’s vice president of marketing and development, by telephone.
Still, Quitiquit said the Army has not yet made an offer for the land, even though representatives from the military met Parker Ranch trustees and CEO Chris Kanazawa in August. Quitiquit said Parker Ranch expressed a willingness to work with the Army, although the Army cannot enter into any negotiations until, most likely, early 2005, when bureaucratic hurdles are jumped. What does Parker Ranch want from the deal? Quitiquit would say only that the trustees “seek the highest and best use of the land.”
Sean Gleason’s hands shook slightly as he explained the environmental measures in place at PTA. Gleason has worked with the environmental team at PTA for seven years. He started off eagerly, describing the federal government’s “ecosystem management” program.
“With ecosystem management, the idea is that you want to preserve a large contiguous area and by doing that, you preserve the smaller, poorly understood, more convoluted processes that are happening inside that ecosystem,” he said.
Keli‘i Collier asked Gleason if he thought ahupua‘a was an ecosystem. Gleason said it definitely was.
“So how is driving tanks and doing live-fire training related to preserving ecosystems when you take a section of an area and blow it up and then try to preserve everything around it?” he asked. “My idea of an ecosystem is a synergistic world, where everything feeds off of everything.”
“I’m the biologist here,” Gleason shot back. “I don’t have input on how units train.”
Even though Col. Clarke flew military advisors in from O‘ahu, the I’m-not-the-right-guy excuse was common during the tour. When Marti Townsend, representing the National Lawyers Guild, asked about sources of wild fires on PTA, Gleason said, “I’ll cover that later.”
“Cover it now,” demanded Townsend. Gleason did, but he didn’t know all the details and said other people would answer the questions later. But the tour was so brief that these questions were rarely answered. Sixty questions that the activists e-mailed to McElroy prior to the tour were not addressed at all.
Our last stop: a pu‘u overlooking the PTA. From there, the group could see the green and brown expanse that looks like a national park. It was only with a sharp eye that the green ammunition bunkers could be spotted against the cinder cones and kipuka. Range manager Noble Kila pointed out the ranges from which the military fires into the Impact Area.
The pu‘u also overlooks Bradshaw Army Airfield, which will be expanded to accommodate C-17 transport planes; they can carry two Strykers to Bradshaw. However, PTA’s altitude, up to 8,600 feet above sea level, could make take-off with Strykers on board impossible for the C-17s, said Transformation Officer Ron Borne.
William Aila, Jr. of Na ‘Imi Pono, one of the groups suing the Army to stop the Strykers, has long been concerned with the Army’s use of Makua Valley. He asked questions regarding CALFEX (company combined arms live fire exercises) training.
“They have consistently said that Makua is the only place in the state where they can do this training. The way that Ron [Borne] answered that question today is sort of a lie and sort of technically true. The Army has not done any of those exercises up here—but the Marines have. That indicates that they can do it, but choose not to, because it would blow away their [Makua] argument.”
Somewhat silent during the tour were members of Kipuka, another of the Stryker plaintiffs. During the pu‘u visit, they wandered off the trail, and when the time came to get back on the bus, one young woman, who requested her name not be used, confronted Col. Clarke. She held in her hands trash she found in the weeds. Bottles, cans, pieces of plastic.
Her question was simple: How can I trust you when you say you’re going to protect the land, when you don’t clean up after yourselves? Clarke was silent. The young woman made the Lt. Col. promise he would clean up. He promised. With the military keeping such tight control of access to the land, though, how will we ever know if he keeps it?
RDX and HMX, two of the chemicals the Army found in soil samples at PTA, are the very same chemicals that recently became international news when 380 tons of the toxic substances went missing at the
Al-QaQaa facility in Iraq.
July 7, 2004: Army issues a Record of Decision stating they will bring a Stryker brigade to Hawai‘i.
Aug. 2004: Three groups—‘Iliou‘laokalani, Kïpuka, and Na ‘Imi Pono, represented by Earthjustice—file suit against the Army to stop the Stryker brigade from coming to Hawai‘i. The suit contends the Army did not explore alternate Stryker brigade sites , even though the Army’s own environmental impact statement identified seven major mainland Army installations devoted to training U.S. Army forces. Earthjustice’s David Henkin says it will “take at least six months to hear the case on the merits.”
2004, Oct. 8: Plaintiffs file for “injunctive relief” to stop all Stryker-related transformation actions and also a temporary restraining order to stop the land grab.
2004, Nov. 5: Judge Ezra hears injunctive relief brief.
2004, Nov. 9: Judge Ezra hears restraining order.
2005: Acquire West PTA Maneuver Training Area land
2006–2007: First Strykers to be stationed on Hawai‘i Island.
2007: Construct Battle Area Complex at PTA.
2009: Bradshaw Army Air Field runway upgrade and extension. Build Military Vehicle trail between PTA and Kawaihae. Upgrade Schofield (Wheeler) airfield for C-130 airplanes. Construct Schofield Battle Area Complex.
SUBJECT: MILITARISM IN HAWAII
SOURCE: JUAN WILSON email@example.com
The Stryker Issue is not over yet
19 August 2004 - 4:30pm
a Stryker head-on. Something you don't want to eye-witness
The Stryker review should have been more thorough
Star Bulletin Editorial 19 August 2004
Three native Hawaiian groups have filed suit to stop the Army from locating the brigades in the state. Contreoversy over the Stryker brigade should have led the Army to comply meticulously with requirements of preparing its environmental assessment for the program and leave no avenues for challenges. It appears that it left a chink in its plans for the armored vehicle.
A lawsuit aimed at stopping the Army from converting a combat unit into a brigade has been filed on behalf of three native Hawaiian organizations that contend the Army did not consider locations other than Hawaii for the new force as it should have.
Unfulfilled obligations to restore damaged lands in the state and the continuing conflict over live-fire training at Makua Valley have predictably increased public opposition to further military expansion here.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a government report last week that said because of design problems, the Stryker brigades won't be able to meet the original goal of quick engagement in combat, raising legitimate questions about whether the program should go forward.
In its filing, the public interest law firm EarthJustice.org pointed to requirements that environmental assessments "rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives" when considering sites and that decisionmakers and the public be informed about options to "avoid or minimize adverse impacts" rather than justifying decisions already made.
EarthJustice contends that neither the drafts nor final impact statements weighed any alternatives even though mainland sites had been suggested.
The Hawaiian groups believe that their interests are threatened by the nearly 300 24-ton vehicles that would operate on expanded training grounds on Oahu and on the Big Island. Indeed, the EIS acknowledges that "transforming the 2nd Brigade in Hawaii would destroy native Hawaiian cultural sites, prevent the exercise of traditional practices and irreparably harm Hawaii's fragile and unique native ecosystem as well as the endangered plants and animals," EarthJustice says.
Although the state has been eager to reap some of the millions of dollars the expansion will bring in, the economic benefits must be weighed against cultural and environmental costs.
The Army promises it will spend $40 million to offset environmental damage, but thousands of acres previously used by the military remain spoiled. Even on Kahoolawe, where more than $400 million was spent on clearing ordnance, there are still thousands of bombs and bullets. It would be preferable for the Army to devise a plan for restoration and to lessen environmental damage before the Stryker's wheels run over Hawaiian soil.
The argument for locating the brigades in Hawaii was rapid deployment, the goal being to reach anywhere in the Pacific Rim within 96 hours. However, the Government Accountability Office reports that the weight of the Stryker -- refitted with additional armor because it was vulnerable to the type of rocket-propelled grenades used against soldiers in Iraq -- and its equipment and crew make it impossible under certain conditions for the planes carrying them to take off. The weight also cuts in half the 1,000-mile flight range originally required. If crew and gear are carried separately, unloading, outfitting armor and assembling troops consumes time and delays deployment.
SUBJECT: MILITARISM IN HAWAII
SOURCE: TRACEY SCHAVONE firstname.lastname@example.org
Bring Stryker to Hawaii Poll
23 August 2004 - 7:00am
The Hilo Tribune-Herald is conducting a poll as to whether you support Strykers coming to the Big Island of Hawaii.
Please vote at http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/index.html
As of the time of this posting the poll was running 60% against locating the Strykers on Hawaii.