Reduction puts size of Oahu's Army forces in flux

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 19, 2013

The Army is studying the possibility of cutting 8,000 soldier and government civilian positions at Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter in a postwar environment of tightening budgets, a move that would remove $391 million in income annually from the local economy.

The scenario was announced Friday by the Army as it contemplates eliminating a minimum of eight brigade combat teams and realigning other units at 21 installations to trim its active-duty strength to 490,000 from 562,000 by fiscal 2020.

On the other hand, the Army also is considering inactivating more than those eight brigades and bulking up remaining units — a step that could add 1,500 soldiers on Oahu and increase income in the economy by $73 million.

The great majority of any change in Hawaii would be at Schofield Barracks. A third option under review is no change.

No decisions have been made yet, the Army said in the programmatic environmental assessment for force structure revisions released Friday.

"The (assessment) is designed to inform decision-makers of potential socioeconomic and environmental impacts associated with proposed actions as these stationing decisions are made in the coming years," the U.S. Army Environmental Command said. "The specific locations where changes will occur have not been decided."

The new report was still being processed by local officials following word of immediate cuts related to the fiscal cliff.

The Department of the Army on Wednesday ordered a civilian hiring freeze, curtailed some training and called for a 30 percent reduction in base operations support costs.

"How this filters down remains to be seen but is expected to be significant," said Charlie Ota, vice president of military affairs for the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. "This would be on top of planned cuts in the number of active military troops and civilian employees."

On the other side of the equation, "there is a possibility of a gain in the number of troops at Schofield Barracks if the Army can ensure that the modernization effort at (Poha­ku­loa Training Area) is funded and completed," Ota said.

Justifying the retention of the 25th Infantry Division's two brigade combat teams and its aviation brigade is critical, said Ota, who believes that having access to adequate training areas in Hawaii is key.

Driving the examination across the Army is the mandate to reduce the size of its overall force to 490,000 from 562,000 soldiers.

"After more than 10 years of war, our nation is facing new challenges and opportunities that call for reshaping our defense priorities," the service said.

The Army's new end strength will come about as a result of a reduction of at least eight brigade combat teams from the current 45, the new report said.

The assessment evaluates a total potential population loss of about 126,000 soldiers and military civilian employees.

"These reductions obviously far exceed what is required to reach an end-strength of 490,000 active component soldiers," the Army said. The new report analyzed the "largest possible gains and losses that are anticipated under current fiscal, policy and strategic conditions."

Under the scenario envisioning a loss of 8,000 soldier and government civilian positions on Oahu, an additional 831 military service contract jobs would be cut and 1,496 other jobs would be lost indirectly as a result of reduced demand for goods and services, for a total potential loss of 10,327 jobs.

A year ago on a stop in Hawaii, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odi­erno said the Army's force level would stay about the same in Asia and the Pacific, and it would rotate extra soldiers through the region from the mainland for training, engagement and deployments as the service looked to make cuts elsewhere.

The Army said at the time it had about 23,000 soldiers in Hawaii.

Hawaii was "critical" to the Army, Odi­erno said repeatedly, and the plan then was to maintain Stryker armored vehicle, infantry and aviation brigades at Schofield Barracks.

Hawaii is used to "engage throughout the Pacific region, so it's critical to what we do," Odi­erno said. "It enables us to have forces forward-stationed, and it enables us to deploy forces even farther forward if necessary, so it will be critical."

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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