Star Bulletin News Article

By Gregg L. Kakesako

Sunday May 9, 2010

Army chief cites value of Makua for training

New Army Secretary John McHugh supports the continued use of Makua Valley for military training, emphasizing that closing it would mean the 11,000 soldiers stationed here would have to spend more time away from their families preparing for wartime deployments.

McHugh toured a portion of the 4,000-acre Makua Military Reservation by helicopter and truck Friday morning with Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of all Army troops in the Pacific and former commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division.

McHugh said retention of Makua allows the Army to offer the "full spectrum of training" here without having to send soldiers to southern California. "I think it's in the interest of the soldiers, the Army and the United States of America to have these forces continuing to be in position to grow, to be fully trained as they are now to go forward to do the nation's business."

He added that the Army should continue "making every effort and expending those resources to protect the culture, the heritage and the very unique environmental challenges that exist here."

McHugh said 25th Division soldiers now spend several months at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert to complete their training for Iraq or Afghan combat missions.

"Coming out of Hawaii, that's like another deployment," McHugh added. "It impacts very significantly on the amount of time soldiers have to recover and spend with their families."

Mixon said the Army plans an environmental study on converting the valley to "a non-live-fire training range" that would focus on programs dealing with the use of drones, helicopter laser and convoy operations and ways to defuse roadside and homemade bombs.

Since 2001 Earthjustice and Malama Makua, a Leeward Oahu group that believes the valley is scared to native Hawaiians, have been fighting the Army over the use of Makua. No live-fire infantry exercises have been held in the area since 2004 because of the court cases.

Both sides agree that more than 50 endangered plant and animal species and more than 100 archaeological features are found in the valley area.

McHugh said at a Friday news conference that the Army has spent $10 million a year to ensure the safety of the endangered plants and animals and provide access to cultural and historical sites. Proponents have argued that is not enough.

Earlier this year Mixon said the Army plans to spend $37 million to convert Makua Valley into a roadside-bomb and counter-insurgency training center.

"It's obviously an incredible, beautiful part of the island," McHugh told reporters after his first visit to the islands and Makua Valley. "My first impression visually was that the Army has done a more than credible job in preserving its historic nature and preserving its environmental nature."

McHugh said he believes the military can share the valley with the community.

Mixon has said that over the next decade much traditional infantry and artillery training can be shifted to the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area.

Makua Valley, with proper funding and support, could become a training center on gathering intelligence, Mixon has said. The center could provide training on homemade bombs used in all parts of the world, especially important given the growing threat in the Philippines, India and the rest of Asia. Soldiers from Pacific basin countries could also be sent here for such training at Makua.

He also said that Makua is a good place to train with unmanned aerial vehicles.

McHugh was in the islands on the last leg of a weeklong visit to Army bases in Japan, South Korea and Hawaii. The former Republican U.S. House member is the Army's 21st civilian leader. He assumed the post in September.

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Comment by Kaohi on May 10, 2010 at 4:33pm
Mahalo for the forum posting and your blog.

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