Mosquitoes of Makua

War of the small,

War of the flea,

Where the strongest bomb is human

Who is bursting to be free.

The moon will be my lantern,

And my heart will find the way

To sow the seeds of courage

That will blossom into day,

To blossom up a garden

So green before they came,

Our joy will be the sunshine,

And our tears will be the rain.

– Chris Iijima and Nobuko Miyamoto, War of the Flea

In the following article from the Honolulu Weekly, Sparky Rodrigues of Malama Makua compares the group’s approach to a mosquito biting an elephant. The metaphor evokes the classic description of guerrilla warfare as a “war of the flea”, where small resistance forces utilize asymmetry to their advantage. But the guerrilla strategy relies on mobility, improvisation, the ability to “hit and run” and the support of the community. The Army’s efforts to generate pro-military sentiment in the Wai’anae and Native Hawaiian communities seeks to remove the environment from which the Makua movement draws its support and suggests that the military is applying counterinsurgency methods to its public relations strategy as well as training mission in Makua. It challenges the Makua movement to evaluate how well we are applying these lessons in our strategies and tactics in the social and political arena.


The mosquito’s coast

Is the Army committed to changing its tune in Mākua, or is it just paying lip-service?

Catherine Black

Jan 6, 2010


A clash of cultures, and some dialogue as well.  Image: Davd Henkin

When Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed suit against the U.S. Army in 1998, it was a David and Goliath-type facedown, though the group’s president Sparky Rodrigues says its preferred metaphor is “a mosquito biting a rogue elephant as it crashes through the forest. We’re tiny, but we’ve been able to make it stop to itch.”

The Waianae non-profit organization’s original demand was that the Army conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, after a series of fires set off by its live-fire training exercises burned thousands of acres of environmentally and culturally sensitive land. In a 2001 settlement, the Army agreed to do the EIS and has not conducted any live-fire exercises (simulations of combat scenarios using “live” munitions) since 2004.

In July of 2009, however, it seemed as though the valley’s recovery period would end: The Army completed its EIS and issued a Record of Decision advocating a return to live-fire training in the valley.

Yet the mosquito bit again: in August, Malama Makua filed a claim contending that two studies required by the 2001 settlement were poorly conducted and not released for public comment, as mandated. The Army requested that the court dismiss this claim, but in November, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway denied the Army’s request, upholding Malama Makua’s argument that the studies’ methodologies were insufficient to test possible contamination threats to subsurface archeological remains and marine life.

“We have serious concerns about the adequacy of the EIS itself,” says Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, “but before dealing with that larger question, we are asking the court to resolve a threshold issue regarding these studies, which are inadequate. It’s basically a continuation of Malama Makua’s struggle with the Army since 1998, trying to force the Army to do an honest appraisal of the effects of training in a valley full of endangered species and cultural sites, and to address the question of why they can’t do this somewhere else and still accomplish their mission?”

Service, or lip-service?

The Army’s policy is to not comment on ongoing litigation, but local Army Garrison spokesman Dennis Drake signals a number of proposed mitigations to lessen the impact of training at Makua.

These include identifying and protecting culturally sensitive sites; eliminating some of the areas previously used for training such as Kaena Point and one of the valley ridges; investing in native species restoration efforts (the Army spends 10 million dollars annually on environmental protection in Hawaii, and contracts 28 biologists at Makua alone); and a cultural sensitivity training program for soldiers in Makua so that archeological sites–totaling more than 120, including at least two known heiau–are not damaged. The Army also recently launched a new Military Munitions Response Program to engage the community in the process of cleaning up unexploded weapons along the coastline.

Yet according to Rodrigues, “their cultural sensitivity is less than zero. They say they’re doing cultural sensitivity training, but what we’re finding is that it’s not about Hawaiian culture or the community’s culture, but the Army’s culture. Their talk about sensitivity is more for the sound bite, the news report, the press release.”

A changing strategy

The main question at issue is whether the Army’s live fire training–which involves mortar, artillery, anti-tank weapons, grenades and mines–can be done elsewhere. According to Drake, the Army’s new focus for Makua Valley training is in preparing soldiers for the type of situations that might be found in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re not doing force on force fighting now, but counter-insurgency training. The big one is defense against IEDs, because that’s the weapon that’s killing the most soldiers right now. So convoy live fire training is a critical task, because if you’re in a convoy and one of your convoy hits an IED and your convoy stops, they could be sitting ducks for an ambush situation.”

The Army recently announced plans to transform Makua Valley into a counterinsurgency training site over the next decade, though it defends its argument, outlined in the July Record of Decision, for conducting up to 32 combined live-fire exercises (what Makua Valley has been traditionally used for) and 130 convoy live-fire exercises (the newer counter-insurgency exercises) per year.

Henkin says, however, that the proposal makes clear it is both reasonable and feasible for the Army to move all of its combined arms training out of the valley.

“The Army should simply do that, rather than try to think of new training it can conduct at Makua,” he says. “After all, the Army has never satisfactorily answered the core question: why it thinks any training whatsoever at Makua is appropriate or vital for national security. No rational planner in the 21st century would decide to conduct military training in the midst of Makua’s biological and cultural treasures.”

Ultimately, Malama Makua and Earthjustice argue that the price for the Army’s live-fire training, which involve potential fire hazards, physical damage to historic sites and toxic waste contamination in an ahupuaa of rich historical, cultural and environmental resources (the area is home to 48 endangered plant and animal species, including the ‘elepaio bird and the endangered Oahu tree snail) is too high, even with the proposed mitigations.

The Army argues that 4,190-acre Makua valley is the only place on Oahu where soldiers can get the type of training they need in order to be prepared for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without spending large amounts of money on transportation off-island or cutting into soldiers’ already reduced time at home with their families between deployments.

Although the military’s 133,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) on the island of Hawaii has been suggested as an option, “that alternative is not at all preferable for us,” says Drake. “It’s impractical and costly for small units to deploy to PTA and return each time they desire to train. A battalion or brigade deployment to PTA should occur only when their company-sized units are proficient to the level where they can integrate into a larger exercise.”

As long as Makua is a viable option for smaller-scale exercises, the Army’s reasoning “just makes common sense” says Drake. Doing the training off-island would require more money to ensure that soldiers get the same degree of combat preparation. Drake insists that as long as the Army needs to prepare soldiers for potential combat, there will be a need for a local training area for soldiers stationed in Hawaii. While these reasons don’t eliminate other ranges as possibilities, they do make Makua the most attractive one as long as the costs don’t outweigh the benefits.

A slow shift

This is all part of a larger, ongoing debate over the military’s impact in Hawai’i. For many environmental and cultural stakeholders the costs are too high, and as Rodrigues explains, the Waianae Coast’s military presence is a health and quality of life concern for the region’s already underserved, largely Hawaiian population.

Malama Makua’s outreach has helped to broaden the debate regarding military use of Waianae and state resources, and one positive outcome of the 2001 settlement is that the group has brought thousands of people into a valley that was previously off-limits to the public. They have been leading cultural accesses twice a month since 2002, including overnight Makahiki ceremonies, Christmas vigils and Easter Sunrise services.

“We take everybody back there, students, neighbors, people from other parts of Oahu, even military personnel…in fact it’s good to take people who don’t agree with us,” says Fred Dodge, one of the group’s directors. This, along with participation in many of the coastline’s community organizations, is how Malama Makua is attempting to educate the broader public about the valley’s cultural and ecological importance.

Ultimately the question comes down to how worthwhile it will be for the Army to maintain its training at this particular site. In the coming months, Judge Mollway will likely hear arguments from both sides on whether the Army complied with the settlement agreement, or whether it can return to live-fire training. In the meantime, the soldiers, the community and the valley itself await an outcome that will determine which vision of Makua will prevail.

To view the Army’s EIS, visit []
Malama Makua will host a fundraiser yard sale Sat 1/9 & Sun 1/10 at 86-024 Glenmonger Street in Waianae.

One Comment

Charlie Osborn

I don’t understand why the Army feels that it must do this type of training in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of land on the mainland suitable for this type of training. They should simply give this land back to the Hawaiians and move these troops back to the mainland.

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