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Hawaii and Nation Would Do Better if Army Reduced Its Oahu Footprint

Schofield Barracks

By AL Frenzel (Colonel, U.S. Army retired)
Makaha resident

Like all of us who live in Hawaii, the cost of living is equally debilitating for the Army on Oahu. Given the freedom to choose and absence of Senator Inouye's enormous influence, the Army would likely prefer its maneuver brigades be stationed somewhere it can better afford and where it can actually conduct critically essential combat training. Stationing combat maneuver brigades on Oahu, isolated from ready access to adequate training areas and located days and weeks away from essential strategic airlift and sealift assets does little to serve the nation's defense strategy. The situation begs the question, if the Army cannot train here, is not combat ready here, cannot deploy quickly enough from here and pays a fortune to be based here — why is it here?

Currently only 12 of the Army's 37 maneuver brigades are combat ready — an abysmal 32 percent readiness rate. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno recently testified that "This is the lowest readiness levels I've seen within our Army since I've been serving for the last 37 years."

Now with ever-dwindling budget authorizations, the Army's upcoming basing decisions must consider economic fundamentals and strategic realities that were ignored in times of budgetary plenty and political gamesmanship.

The Army is proposing Oahu lose 19,800 personnel as part of the mandatory force reduction of 130,000 within its active force before 2019. These cuts are essential to preventing a "hollow Army" — defined as forces on paper with inadequate funding — to ensure equipment modernization, maintenance and properly trained soldiers and units that meet essential combat readiness standards. Regarding sequestration, Odierno said the Army "will continue to have degraded readiness and extensive modernization program shortfalls.  . . . At this rate only a small portion of the Army will be ready if needed."

The Army's economic role on Oahu has always been the shortsighted excuse to ignore the "tyranny of distance" and logistics calculus associated with being stranded in the middle of the Pacific. However, even this ruse has been played on the public for way too many years now. The Army's meager contribution to Hawaii's economy is pale in comparison to the enormous real and intrinsic costs incurred by the state and its citizens.

The Army contributes only $1.35 billion of the $14.7 billion Defense dollars spent in Hawaii. Of this, the Army estimates only 16 percent (only $208 million) actually gets into the local economy, with the balance spent tax-free on-base. Yet the Hawaii Department of Education pays over $115 million out-of-pocket to educate the Army's 11,000 dependent children. Untold millions are spent by the state and city & county to provide services for the Army's 71,000 personnel and family members (7.3 percent of Oahu's population) without reimbursement via representational collection of state income taxes, property taxes, or excise taxes. In addition, rentals and housing prices are severely inflated by housing allowances paid to thousands of soldiers living off base. Further, valuable Army-held lands and resources in central Oahu are used rent-free in perpetuity, while environmental and cultural damages occur on a daily basis. The economic balance sheet for the Army on Oahu is deeply in the red, despite claims to the contrary by a select group of businesses who are the sole beneficiaries of Army spending.

AL Frenzel

Downsizing the Army on Oahu will not only improve global Army readiness levels, but also save Hawaii millions of dollars annually and return billions of dollars of precious resources currently earning no revenue in central Oahu. Downsizing on Oahu is right for the Army, the nation and Hawaii. Please Hawaii, let the Army go — cut the umbilical cord that is sucking the life out of both the host and its guest.

AL Frenzel, a retired career logistics officer, taught and published on force structuring the Armed Forces at the U.S. Army War College between 1999-2002.


Invitation to attend tomorrow evening's informational meeting on Oahu downsizing at the Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2645 Dole St., Honolulu, 6-8 p.m.

Oahu Council for Army Downsizing

Sign petition to downsize Oahu-based U.S. Army []

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