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Hawaii will lose 1,214 soldiers under cost-saving plan

  • DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE / 2012
    U.S. Army soldiers in a Stryker vehicle returned from the firing range at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island after a live-fire training exercise in 2012. A lawsuit seeks stricter monitoring and enforcement of the military's obligation to clean up ammunition left on the land from such exercises.
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Schofield Barracks will lose 1,214 soldiers and hundreds of Stryker armored vehicles as part of an Army cost-saving plan to reduce the active-duty force by 40,000 troops over the coming two years, officials said.

If Congress and the White House cannot avert another round of budget cuts this year, even deeper troop reductions would result, Army officials said Thursday.

According to the plans released by the Army, Schofield Barracks will shrink by 1,214 soldiers—from 15,687 soldiers to 14,473 soldiers—and Fort Shafter will shrink by 229 soldiers—from 2,233 soldiers to 2,004 soldiers—by the end of fiscal year 2017, Hawaii’s congressional delegation said in a joint release.

The Army had assessed potentially eliminating two brigade combat teams and the 25th Infantry Division headquarters at Schofield Barracks, which would have meant the departure of nearly 16,000 soldiers.

“The Army reiterated the importance of the Pacific today when announcing the impacts of their force structure realignment and the impacts on Hawaii,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Some of those losses will be offset by the relocation to Hawaii of a medical command and arrival of an air defense headquarters, moves that “show that the Army is committed to our state long-term,” Takai said.

The 2nd Brigade at Schofield will shift from a Stryker brigade to an infantry brigade, with several hundred of the eight-wheeled armored vehicles expected to move out. The Army said it may convert a National Guard unit in Washington state to a Stryker unit and transfer the Hawaii armored vehicles to them. 

Military and civilian positions at Fort Shafter will be reduced in the Army Corps of Engineers and a contract support battalion, the Army said.

“Through our collective efforts we have been able to protect the vast majority of the soldiers here in Hawaii,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  “It is disappointing that the Army made these reductions, but given the magnitude of the cuts that were contemplated, we are relieved that the worst-case scenario did not occur. We are entering a challenging time, but also one that presents opportunities for Hawaii.”

At a time when the nation faces growing security challenges around the world, cutting 40,000 troops from the Army “needlessly puts our country at risk,” said U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Hawaii is losing more than 1,400 soldiers now, and could face deeper reductions if across-the-board federal budget cuts continue, Gabbard noted, saying she will continue to work to end sequestration.

Sequestration would “undermine the military’s readiness and the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It would also make serious cuts in investments to education, transportation, community development, and other areas that are essential to a strong economy, she said.

Separately, the Army said it’s moving its western medical headquarters from Washington state to Hawaii.

The Western Regional Medical Command, which is in charge of Army hospitals in 20 Western states, is at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The command has about 165 employees led by a major general.

A two-star general position will be relocated to Honolulu. The medical commander would oversee health care and find ways to support military engagements along the Pacific Rim with foreign allies. 

The decision to shrink the Army from 490,000 active-duty soldiers to 450,000 was made months ago, but details on how it would be accomplished were briefed to Congress only in recent days. The proposal is drawing fire from many lawmakers, especially those whose states or districts are hit hardest, as critics point to fears of a military crisis with Russia and the prospect of being at war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria over an extended period.

The worst-case scenario for the Army in Hawaii would have been the loss of 19,800 soldiers and civilian workers from Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter. The Army previously said it had 22,500 soldiers in the state.

The Army’s overall civilian workforce would be cut by as many as 17,000 over the same period.

Army officials said the plan calls for cuts at nearly every installation in 2016 and 2017, with Fort Benning, Georgia, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, taking the largest reductions. Benning is to lose 3,402 soldiers, or 29 percent of its current personnel, as the Army converts the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division to a smaller unit known as a battalion task force. Elmendorf-Richardson is to lose 2,631 soldiers, or 59 percent of its personnel, as the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division undergoes the same conversion, according to figures released by the Army.

Fort Hood, Texas, the Army’s largest base, would lose 3,350 soldiers, or 9 percent of its personnel. Among others, Fort Bliss, Texas, would lose 1,219 soldiers, or 5 percent; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, would lose 1,251, or 5 percent.

The Army estimates that the overall cut of 40,000 soldiers will result in savings of $7 billion over four years.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said in February that Hawaii might lose some soldiers as part of a big downsizing across the service.

“Here’s what I would say: Our defense strategy is to re-balance toward the Pacific, so we do take that into consideration as we make our decisions,” Odierno said while on a stop in the state. “So we understand that this (Hawaii) is an important part of our defense strategy.”

Odierno said Hawaii is key to “what we do here in the Pacific,” and the soldiers in the region “play a critical role in how we want to move forward and (engage) with our partners out here in the Pacific.”

The 22,500 soldiers in Hawaii are valued in part because of the vast distances in the Pacific, which are “daunting,” he said.

“We have soldiers on the Korean Peninsula, we have some in Japan, but the soldiers here in Hawaii really significantly reduce that distance,” he said. “And so, having a capability here is essential to our success in the future.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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