Yes or no: Should the U.S. military reduce its number of soldiers in Hawai'i?

Photo Credit: 
Miulan Nihipali, The Picture Lady
U.S. Army soldiers with the Salute Battery, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, salute the flag of the United States during the Amerika Samoa Flag Day, July 2014.

SECOND LISTENING SESSION SET FOR THIS EVENING 6:30 P.M. AT LEILEHUA HIGH SCHOOL

(HONOLULU)--While most Hawai'i politicians strongly oppose the reduction of U.S. Army soldiers in Hawai'i, one Maui politician and several community groups are for it, urging the military to "clean up" and address the concerns of native Hawaiians about land.

Last evening, approximately 400 people showed up for the U.S. Army Force Structure and Stationing Community Listening Session held at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki. The meeting was hosted by Army leaders from the Pentagon who are studying the potential effects of the reductions.

In line with the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Army is thinking about reducing the number of soldiers at two O'ahu bases -- Scholfield Barracks in Wahiawa and Fort Shafter in central O'ahu. The Army says the reductions are necessary to achieve required savings.

The Listening Sessions are being held to explain the process the Army is using to reach stationing decisions and to hear what impacts a potential reduction of soldiers would have on individuals.

Downsizing of the military in Hawai'i would reduce the number of soldiers at Schofield and Shafter by close to 20,000 (16,000 at Schofield and 3,800 at Shafter) by the Year 2020. About 30,000 family members of these soldiers, will also be affected. The military reductions would decrease Hawai'i's population by 5 percent.

One politician, about an hour and a half into the session, was interrupted by the outcry of a woman in the audience. The outburst came after one politician after another spoke in opposition to military reduction.

“Let the people speak! I want to hear a regular human being," the woman hollered. "Put somebody up there who didn't run for office and who didn't get elected!"

A group of Native Hawaiians, Kanaka Maoli, holding Hawai'i flags, spoke out as authorities circled the woman saying she's with them and the officers have no jurisdiction in their Hawaiian Kingdom.

Hawai'i ranks number one in homelessness in the nation. The woman said that U.S. war veterans comprise a quarter of Hawai'i's homeless population. According to the woman, Native Hawaiians comprise 30 percent of Hawai'i's homeless population.

Referring to homeless Veterans in Hawai'i, the woman said: "We take care of them."

Speakers from numerous community groups and native Hawaiians from around O'ahu and the neighbor islands, called on the military to reduce its force, clean up and address their land concerns.

U.S. Veteran Leighton Tseu, an O'ahu-born Native Hawaiian and graduate of Kamehameha Schools, said it made him proud to serve in the military. He said his family owned the property that is now Blaisdell Park. Tseu took ROTC in high school and applied to every military academy including the United States Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Anapolis. He was waitlisted. In 1971, he signed up to serve in the Vietnam War. His duties included the handling of 11,000 tons of ammunition in Vietnam and Agent Orange.

"I trusted, I studied, I obeyed because I was proud," he said. "I was an American."

Tseu said even as he worked with nuclear waste in Johnston Island where the "marine life is not stable", he was "so saddened but still believed in you."

"Our queen trusted in you...missionaries, they take our language. I was hurt. Our generation lost it," he told Army officials. "We trusted you to protect us. Do you know how much that hurts? I lived it. We swallowed it. My parents said 'swallow it.' So, you see our aloha is strong. There is no treaty...you teach us to be truthful...teach about justice. [W]e are not talking about what's at the heart -- the land. That hurts. And then houses, you got these beautiful homes, we ain't got it and we pay taxes so you can stay here. It's not balanced."

A former employee of Catholic Charities spoke in opposition to military reduction, saying revenue generated by the military is needed, in order for the state to subsidize low income and affordable housing. She told tautalatala.com O'ahu's homeless population alone is close to 7,000, statewide it's close to 15,000.

One speaker said that reductions in Hawai'i will also affect the US response in providing military assistance to nations in the Pacific. Fort Shafter is headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) for U.S. Army Forces in the Asia and Pacific basin.

All politicians who spoke, with the exception of Hawai'i State Rep. Kaniela Ing, born and raised on Maui, oppose the reduction of military in Hawai'i.

“I am strongly opposed to the cuts to the United States Army Garrison-Hawaii," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz via Skype. "Hawai'i is the last place the Army should consider cutting soldiers in light of America's commitment to rebalance to the Asia-Pacific."

The impact of military reductions "would be deafening to this community," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

"We love what you do, we recognize the importance and we believe that particularly in Hawaii we serve an incredible important function," Caldwell added.

Ing says he is Hawai'i's only politician who supports the reduction. He serves the 11th House District, southern Maui, Kihei, Wailea and Makena.

"We need to focus on attrition, job attrition, land acquisition, clean up, and housing, affordable housing development," Rep. Ing said.

The Army is expected to make a decision at the end of summer.

A second Listening Session is set for Wednesday, this evening, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Leilehua High School cafeteria at 1515 California Ave in Wahiawa.

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