Stryker brigade isle bound?


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Army spokespeople are adamant that the idea of Stryker armored vehicles being relocated to the Big Island is just that: an idea. It’s a long way from becoming a reality, they insist.

On Wednesday, Honolulu media reported that the U.S. Army seeks to cut costs and is considering repositioning Stryker vehicles at the Pohakuloa Training Area — either from existing stock at Schofield Barracks on Oahu or those remaining at the end of the Iraq War and the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan slated for 2014.

But at the moment, the concept is only one of many options being entertained by Army officials, said Bob McElroy, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Garrison at PTA.

“Right now, it’s just an idea that our headquarters is considering,” he said. “At this point, there’s not even a feasibility study, or a cost analysis study, which are the very earliest beginning stages to doing anything like this. This idea is still in its infancy.”

A total of 4,800 soldiers stationed at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu are supported by 233 Strykers, said Lt. Col. Kate Guttormsen, deputy public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Pacific. A number of those vehicles are occasionally transported to Pohakuloa Training Area, along with their crews and support personnel, for training exercises.

Most recently, she said, a task force of 800 soldiers traveled to Pohakuloa with 25 Stryker vehicles for a 30-day training exercise, costing the Army approximately half a million dollars.

It is possible that some of the associated costs could be saved by keeping vehicles at PTA rather than transporting them here each time, spokespeople said.

But, added McElroy, “again, what we’re talking about is not even a plan. It’s a concept. It’s a long-term concept. Not one dollar has been put toward it. … We would have to look at cost savings, and other research. This is years down the line, if it happens at all.”

The eight-wheeled vehicles weigh around 19 tons and cost about $4.9 million apiece, before any additional modifications are made. They primarily serve as armored troop transport vehicles, said McElroy. Each has a crew of two, a driver and a vehicle commander. They can carry up to eight soldiers in the rear.

“They have several different versions,” he said. “One can serve as an ambulance. One can be outfitted with a 105 millimeter gun on it. One is a mortar vehicle. They have ones for communications, fire support. All sorts of different functions.”

While stationing Strykers on the Big Isle could mean savings for taxpayers, not everyone is happy about the idea.

Jim Albertini, a well-known critic of military operations at PTA and president of the Malu Aina Center for Nonviolent Education & Action, said Wednesday he would oppose any plan to station the vehicles on the isle.

“My initial reaction, of course, is to oppose it,” he said.

Albertini said he has long railed against any kind of live-fire exercises at PTA that could create dust and risk spreading radiation from depleted uranium shells.

The Army has admitted to using the area in the past to test rounds made from depleted uranium, a weak radioactive heavy metal. Several years ago, the Army worked to find and remove the rounds at PTA to make the area safe for Stryker training. A number of studies undertaken by the Army about the potential health risks posed by the rounds at PTA have come up showing no risk is apparent.

Albertini and others, however, claim that the Army has misrepresented the dangers. They point to a resolution passed by the Hawaii County Council in 2008 that recommends the Army stop all activity at PTA until further study and clean-up efforts can be completed.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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