The new commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific may be softening his position with regard to live fire training in Makua. The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports:
There may be no Army live-fire training in Makua Valley for years to come, and possibly never again, the new commanding general of the U.S. Army in the Pacific said.
Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, who took over the Fort Shafter-based command in March, said he’s focusing on providing replacement live-fire training for Hawaii soldiers through range improvements at Schofield Barracks and at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island.
“I firmly believe that if those things stay on track at Schofield and PTA, we will not have to live fire in Makua,” Wiercinski said in a recent interview.
Additionally, Wiercinski is putting on hold his predecessor’s plan to convert Makua into a “world-class” roadside bomb and counterinsurgency training center as the Army continues to deal with litigation that has prevented live fire in the 4,190-acre Waianae Coast valley since 2004.
“I’m not going to move forward with disrupting anything or trying to add another element to this until we get the first steps done,” he said. “I don’t want to complicate what’s already in the court system.”
But Makua is still being held hostage as insurance against delays in the expansion of training areas in Lihu’e (Schofield) and Pohakuloa, which pits communities and islands against one another. There have been major changes in the army’s command structure that shifted more training and operations to the U.S. Army Pacific:
U.S. Army Pacific oversees issues such as Makua Valley, but also has taken on greater responsibilities across the region.
Troop levels in Alaska and Hawaii have increased as numbers have dropped in South Korea. A series of sub-commands has been added in Hawaii that has bolstered Fort Shafter’s command and control role as an administrative and deployable headquarters.
In years past, U.S. Army Pacific “never really participated in exercises as a headquarters, never participated in operations as a headquarters,” Wiercinski said.
It was always a service component command, meaning it did all of the administrative functions.
“For the first time in the last couple of years, it’s become operationalized,” Wiercinski said. “It gives (U.S. Pacific Command) an extra set of headquarters to be able to do things at a moment’s notice.”
This shift has meant an expansion of Fort Shafter as the Army Pacific headquarters:
In 2001, Fort Shafter had 1,194 soldier “billets,” or positions, and a total population of 4,077, including families and civilian workers, officials said.
That population now stands at 6,306 military members with a total Fort Shafter census of 13,172, according to the command.
While the U.S. tries to reinforce its military presence in east Asia in order to contain China, it is also withdrawing and realigning forces to Guam and Hawai’i in response to protest in Korea, Japan and Okinawa. The realignment of forces in Korea is having negative repercussions for Hawai’i:
The Eighth Army is becoming a combat unit in a return to its Korean War-era roots.
Fort Shafter will exercise the service component command change with the Eighth Army in August.
For an increase in soldiers in Hawaii, firing ranges have been added at Schofield and a Battle Area Complex for Stryker vehicle training is expected to be completed in late 2012, officials said.
Meanwhile, a new Infantry Platoon Battle Area at PTA that could permanently replace Makua Valley might be ready for use in 2014 or 2015, the Army said.