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Army breaks ground on Fort Shafter HQ

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    Courtesy U.S. Army Pacific This is an artist's rendering of the Fort Shafter command building.

A higher profile in Asia and the Pacific is in the works for Fort Shafter and within the ranks of the Army with construction of a new 330,000-square-foot headquarters under way as well as an effort to upgrade the three-star command to four stars.

The Army, contractor Niking Corp. and U.S. Sen. Daniel Ino­uye took part Monday in a groundbreaking for the first phase of the $400-$500 million command-and-control facility for U.S. Army Pacific.

The new operational headquarters, to be completed about 2018, will provide a state-of-the-art facility and consolidate functions of 12 pre-World War II buildings and trailers "into a more efficient, effective organization," the Army said.

U.S. Army Pacific leads more than 62,000 active-duty and Reserve soldiers in the region and is increasingly being used for engagement with countries in the region.

Soldiers from Hawaii trained with the Indian army at Maja­han and Ba­thinda, India, March 5-19 during exercise Yudh Abh­yas, while trainers from Fort Shafter helped prepare Cambodian peacekeepers in that country for United Nations humanitarian missions March 13-23 in two recent examples of U.S. influence in the region.

"Today the U.S. Army Pacific is engaged in a mission unsurpassed in generations in its complexity and importance to the long-term interests of the United States of America," said Lt. Gen. Francis Wier­cin­ski, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific.

Wiercinski noted that the Army’s geographic responsibilities include nearly half the globe, 36 "partner" nations, four of the world’s most populated countries and seven of the 10 largest armies in the world.

Inouye said the senior military leaders in 25 of those 36 nations are part of their countries’ armies and have four stars, and he is working to change U.S. Army Pacific to be a similar four-star command.

"The only three-star (leader is here in Hawaii), and we’re supposed to be the superpower," Ino­uye said. He added that it is important to upgrade the U.S. Army Pacific commander to four stars in part to deal peer-to-peer with other countries who "get very sensitive about rank."

"It’s about time we recognize the importance of this Fort Shafter, we recognize the importance of the Army, and it’s about time we get four stars (here)," Ino­uye said, adding, "It will be done."

U.S. Army Pacific had four-star leaders during World War II and the Korean War, he said. Ino­uye said a later budget decision was made to downgrade the rank.

Hawaii already has three four-star commands: U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces. Marine Forces Pacific at Camp Smith is commanded by a three-star general.

Inouye, who lost his arm charging German machine-gun emplacements in World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor, told about 150 people pres­ent for the groundbreaking that he first visited Fort Shafter in June 1947 as senior vice president of the 442nd veterans club.

"When I saw the office, I was quite taken aback because this was the office of the supreme commander of the victorious army of the Pacific," Ino­uye said, adding he expected something "much more powerful than that."

Wiercinski said during his remarks that his office is in building T-100.

"The T stands for ‘temporary,’" Wier­cin­ski said. "What you may not know is that T-100, like the other 14 buildings currently housing our main command post, was erected in the aftermath of Dec. 7, 1941. They were to serve as the temporary facilities to direct operations for our armies as they proceeded across the Pacific. Seventy years later I think it’s safe to say, we got more out of these temporary buildings than we ever bargained for."

Fort Shafter’s soldier population stood at about 6,306 last year.

Niking Corp. of Wahiawa received a $46.8 million contract for the first phase of construction, which will include infrastructure work and a reception building.

Niking President Robert King said about 100 Hawaii workers will be on the job daily during the two-year first phase, which will add to the local economy.

"Every little bit helps, and when we as a local contractor (get the job), it definitely helps because all of the profit stays here," he said.

The defense budget is being cut, and Ino­uye said, "We’re going to complete (the headquarters) when the economy settles down."

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