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The Honolulu Advertiser February 25, 2005

Hawai'i bases said to be safe

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The next round of military base closures is coming in the spring, and while politicians and public officials in other states are positioning, lobbying and fretting, officials in Hawai'i say they aren't that worried.

"If I were a betting man," said U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, Hawai'i's senior congressional delegate and longtime protector of Island military assets, "I'd put my money on no base closures here. I just can't see it happening."

The base realignments and closures, or BRAC, will shake some communities economically as troops and equipment are shuffled to meet the needs of a changing national warfare strategy.

To get leaner, the Pentagon wants to cut 25 percent of the capacity at its roughly 400 bases and installations in the United States in what promises to be the largest base-closing round of the five since the process began in 1988.

"If this round is as big as they are saying, it would blow the others out of the water," said defense expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and security Web site. The magnitude of the changes will become clearer before May 16 when the Pentagon must submit a list of the bases it wants to cut or realign.

The Pentagon says that all domestic bases are under consideration for closure or realignment, but clearly some are more vulnerable than others when viewed through the prism of transformation.

High on the list, experts say, are old installations and small bases used by only one of the four services. Other targets may include large "dinosaur" bases with missions and heavy equipment designed for the Cold War.

Jim Tollefson, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Ha-wai'i, said that unlike his peers in other states, he has been able to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

"While chamber of commerce presidents across the country are worried about job losses," he said, "I think we are looking at the potential for job gains."

Tollefson said the state stands to gain from the Army's $1.5 billion plan to transform a 25th Infantry Division brigade into a Stryker unit and the Air Force's plan to base a squadron of eight C-17 cargo planes at Hickam Air Force Base this year.

He pointed to a $2.2 billion project that calls for the construction, renovation and management of military housing over the next 10 years, and talked about the possibility of an aircraft carrier being home-ported here.

Inouye said the carrier isn't a done deal, but is a possibility.

"And then where do you think the air wing (that operates alongside a carrier) will go?" the senator said. "The air wing can't just go on vacation."

Talk that Fort Shafter, built in 1905 and home of the Army's Pacific Command, might be closed is unsubstantiated, Inouye said. Hawai'i bases, he said, are more likely to continue to grow.

"If Hawai'i wasn't important," Inouye said, "why would we be building up PACOM (Pacific Command), and why would we upgrade Ford Island?"

The Pacific Missile Range (on Kaua'i) is being expanded, he said, and Tripler Army Medical Center is being upgraded.

Inouye said Hawai'i's strategic importance has increased.

"People who are involved in global activities are beginning to sense that some areas of concern are not in the Atlantic, but in the Pacific," he said. "Soon China and India will have more than half of the world's population. I'm not saying we'll go to war with those countries, but with nations that huge, you can have problems.

"The largest Muslim nation isn't in the Middle East, it's Indonesia," he said. "Then you have North Korea. Then you have this ever-ongoing problem between China and Taiwan, and you have guerrilla warfare in the Philippines - need I say more?"

"I don't think there will be any closures here this round," he said.

The Gannett News Service contributed to this report.


Copyright 2005, The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.