Thanks but no tanks — Stryker draft EIS ready for comment
Public hearings set for September 25 & 26
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 8:44 AM HST
As long as Senator Daniel Inouye has been representing Hawai`i in congress, the islands have received more than their fair share of military pork. With the recent discovery of depleted uranium on Hawai`i Island and O`ahu and a growing awareness about the contamination that results from military operations, public opposition to a greater presence of armed forces is growing.
The United States Army will be holding public hearings on their proposed permanent home stationing of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Hawai`i. With a recent environmental impact statement finding that the brigade would cause less damage if based in Alaska or Colorado, and with the controversy surrounding the Stryker’s capability to fire depleted uranium (DU) munitions and possible contamination upon return from the Iraq Occupation, the conclusion could very well be “thanks, but no tanks.”
In 2004, the Army’s top brass decreed that the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry would be transformed into a Stryker unit, and that Hawai`i would be the brigade’s home base.
On the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Team website, the Stryker is described as a new force for “strategic dominance across the full spectrum of operations — agile . . . versatile . . . lethal,” one which can be “rapidly deployed anywhere in the world in a few days time.” It includes approximately 4,000 soldiers and 1,000 vehicles, including 320 of the eight-wheeled, light-armor tanks.
Disregarding U.S. law, the Army failed to consider other base locations for the Stryker, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Three kanaka maoli groups — Kipuka, Na `Imi Pono and `Ilio`ulaokalani Coalition — filed a lawsuit against the Army, which was ruled upon by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last October. The court ordered the Army to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) “to address a full range of alternatives” to permanently stationing the Stryker Brigade in Hawai`i.
The Army’s recently released draft EIS examines “a fuller range of reasonable alternatives” for permanently stationing the 2/25th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Initially, the Army included alternate locations in Alaska, Washington, Colorado and Kentucky. The draft EIS was then limited to locations that have an infantry brigade that could be moved to Hawai`i to replace the Stryker — either Fort Carson, Colorado, or Fort Richardson, Alaska.
The locations in Alaska and Colorado are both military garrisons with large tracts of land that are far removed from civilian populations. Lt. Col. Jonathan Allen, public affairs officer for U.S. Army Garrison-Alaska, said “there’s a lot of maneuver room available here in Alaska. There’s 1.6 million acres between Fort Wainright, Fort Greely and Fort Richardson. We’re looking at having a lot of forces stationed here in Alaska . . . The community in the area is supportive of the military.”
Pat Everett of the Beauty Shop Post Exchange at Fort Carson, responded to the opportunity of the Stryker Brigade relocating to Colorado by saying “Oooh! You mean some more of the boys gonna come down?” Everett was clearly excited at the prospect of giving more buzzcuts.
Checking news reports in the Fort Carson newspaper for controversy over the possibility of basing Styrker units there seemed unecessary as it is a military publication.
Explaining Senator Dan Inouye’s position on the Stryker Brigade, Communication Director Mike Yuen said the senator is “very hopeful that when the Army concludes this process, it will reaffirm the need for the Stryker’s presence in Hawai`i.” Yuen said Inouye “believes Hawai`i is a prime location for basing the Stryker, given it’s strategic location in the Pacific, and given the political situation in S.E. Asia. With regards to what appears to be a condition for the proposal — that only locations with swapable infantry units would be considered — Yuen said “with 100 percent certainty that the senator was not involved with the Army’s decision making process.”
David Henkin of Earthjustice, the law firm representing the Native Hawaiian groups, said “my concern is that this draft EIS assumes that if the Stryker were to go somewhere else, Hawai`i will necessarily have another brigade come replace it. They limited the scope only to places that have a brigade to swap out.
“In their presumption that another infantry brigade would come to Hawaii,” Henkin added, “the Army hasn’t analyzed the impacts of bringing that brigade in. The one from Alaska is airborne, will need airborne facilities, and different cultural sites will be impacted. The Army needs to put all the facts on the table.”
The draft EIS maintains that the controversial discovery of DU munitions fragments at Pohakuloa Training Area, and the radioactive DU particles found at Schofield Barracks, dates back to weapon tests done in the past, and is not related to the Strykers. The document cites their official policy, Army Regulation 385-63, which “prohibits the use of DU ammunition for training worldwide.”
A bi-product of the nuclear energy industry, DU is a radioactive, heavy metal used by the military for its superior, armor piercing force.
BIW sent the following inquiry to Dave Foster of Army Public Affairs: “The Army assures that no DU ammunition will be used when the Styker Brigade Combat Team trains at the Pohakuloa Anti-Armor Live-Fire Training Range on the Saddle Road. What measures does the Army have in place to assure that the Strykers returning from Iraq, which use DU munitions in combat, will be decontaminated for aerosolized, microscopic DU dust?” As of press time, Foster had not responded.
“The Army says they ‘don’t train with ’em in Hawai`i.’ But there’s no question that they fire DU in Iraq,” said Henkin. “Do they clean the vehicles adequately? Under the National Environmental Protection Act, if there’s a scientific dispute, they have to disclose and discuss.”
According to the draft EIS, it was only after “a prescribed burn of the survey area” at Schofield that the Army found DU munitions fragments and 45 separate locations with “Gamma levels higher then background.”
“One of the biggest fears is from the DU oxides created when the material is fired, exploded or burnt,” said Dr. Lorrin Pang, a former military physician. “When inhaled into the lung, the particles are insoluble, and have a half-life of many decades. They are eventually picked up by the lymphatic system, like miner’s lung, and get into the urine.”
Neither the Army nor the Hawai`i Department of Health is testing soldiers who might be contaminated. The DU issue will continue to emit high levels of controversy, distrust and anger until the Army takes the community’s concerns seriously. If individual veterans want to be tested, Pang said Dr. Chris Busby of the European Committee on Radiation Risk has a clinical lab in the United Kingdom that will analyze urine samples for free, because as Pang puts it, “he believes in the cause.”
Explaining Senator Inouye position on Iraq, Yuen said “the senator thinks that the war is a mistake, and that it has devolved into a civil war. Hopefully, some new way will evolve to bring the troops home. Be that as it may, the Stryker should not be a referendum on the Iraq War. Once troops are committed, they should be provided with the equipment they need.”
While the Stryker Brigade draft EIS makes no other mention of DU other then that it was found in Hawai`i and the Army doesn’t use it for training, the EIS does detail a range of other adverse environmental impacts the Stryker will cause. The document lists a summary of impacts on the “valued environmental components” — the land, water and air of Hawai`i, Alaska and Colorado. Adding up the symbols that indicate “significant impact,” the harm to Hawai`i outnumbers the other two.
“Where they put an X, they should have put a double X,” commented Kai McGuire of Mau Pono, a Hilo-based indigenous/environmental action group. “This EIS doesn’t account for the sacredness of the area.”
William `Aila of Na `Imi Pono said “we found records that actually say the Army disposed of Napalm, disposed of ethyl bromide . . . the method of disposal — get this – they dug trenches and dumped ’em in and set it off with munitions.”
`Aila observed “Native Hawaiians have a disproportionate share of asthma and disproportionate rates of leukemia – that’s supposed to be a rare disease — just by looking around at the people in the neighborhood. Around Wai`anae, downwind of Schofield, there’s firing, jet takeoffs. The tradewinds blow right through Kolekole Pass.”
“Our kuleana in Hawai`i is to protect Hawai`i,” said Henkin. “Groups in Alaska and Colorado need to do the same.”
In only two out of the 19 categories, the draft EIS said Stryker’s impact on Hawai`i will be “less then significant” on vegetation, and on transportation. Asking a Pohakuloa Training Area botanist about the findings, she replied “‘less then significant?’ What does that mean?”
`Aila concluded, “to everybody on the Big Island, you need to think about this. Analyze it. Ask the hard questions. Make the decision for your kids and grandkids.”
Army Officials will be on Hawai`i Island next week to hear testimony on the Stryker DEIS. The public hearings will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Aunty Sally’s Lu`au Hale in Hilo, 799 Pi`ilani Street, from 5:30-9:45pm, and on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the Waimea Community Center, 65-1260 Kawaihae Rd, from 5:30- 9:45pm.
The complete DEIS is available at the Kona, Waimea and Hilo libraries, and online at http://aec.army.mil/usaec/
To request more information or send written testimony, contact Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army
Environmental Command, Building E4460, 5179 Hoadley Road, Attention: IMAE-PA, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21010-5401, telephone: (410) 436-2556, fax: (410) 436-1693, e-mail: