Military In Hawaii

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The United States military has a major presence in Hawaii that dates back to before World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Hawaiian Islands are central to U.S. military operations in the Pacific and serve as both a staging and training ground. Honolulu is the headquarters for the United States Pacific Command (PACOM), a command whose responsibility covers half the globe — from the U.S. West Coast to India, from Antarctica to the North Pole.


According to a 2011 report by the RAND Corporation’s National Security Research Division, Hawaii was home to 75,473 Department of Defense personnel in 2009, representing about 10 percent of the state’s employment that year. That included 47,677 active personnel, 9,427 National Guard and Reserve personnel, and 18,369 civilian personnel.

In 2010, Hawaii was home to 47,410 active duty personnel, almost half of them serving in the Army.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Hawaii ranked No. 1 for per capita defense spending in 2010, and the federal government spent $10 billion on defense in Hawaii in 2010.

The 25th Infantry Division represents the U.S. Army’s presence in Hawaii. It is located in Honolulu at Fort Shafter, which consists of 589 acres of land. The Army is also stationed at Schofield Barracks, which cover 8.9 square miles of land in Wahiawa, Oahu.

The 25th Division is often referred to as “Tropic Lightning” and has a long history, participating in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It is commanded by Sgt. Maj. Frank Leota. The Army also uses 6.5 square miles of Makua Valley, located on the leeward side of Oahu, for training exercises. Approximately 21,267 soldiers are stationed in Hawaii, according to the 2009 State of Hawaii Data Book.

PACOM is headquartered at Camp H.M. Smith on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor. It is commanded by Adm. Samuel Locklear. Pearl Harbor occupies 1.7 square miles of coastline. PACOM is responsible for protecting U.S. interests in the entire Pacific Ocean. Although all branches of the military work with PACOM, its main branch is the U.S. Navy. The Navy also operates the Pacific Missile Range Facility, located on Kauai. The Navy also uses 14.4 square miles of Lualualei Valley, located on the Leeward coast of Oahu, for training purposes. In 2009, there were 5,472 sailors stationed in Hawaii.

The Air Force is represented by the 15th Wing, located on Hickam Air Force Base, Oahu. The base spans 4.5 square miles of land adjacent to Pearl Harbor. The 15th Wing engaged Japanese aircraft during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The commander is Sgt. Craig S. Recker. The Air Force mostly conducts practice exercises with the Air Force National Guard, according to their website. A total of 4,577 airmen were stationed in Hawaii in 2009 and another 5,500 people are employed by the National Guard, according to the Hawaii Department of Defense’s 2009 annual report.

The U.S. Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay on Oahu is home to 5,574 marines. The 3rd Marine Regiment, which is best known as being the first U.S. military forces that entered Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, is stationed at the base, which spans 7 square miles. The regiment is commanded by Col. James W. Bierman Jr.


The first U.S. military garrison was established in Hawaii in 1898, only a few years after the overthrown of the Hawaiian monarchy.1.

Coincidently around the same time that the military became fully established in Hawaii, the Spanish-American War broke out, prompting Hawaii to become the main point of departure for American ships that were headed towards the Philippines. The important strategic value led to the Navy declaring Pearl Harbor to be their main naval base in the Pacific so that they could prepare for further warfare in the Pacific if necessary.

Just as the U.S. saw Hawaii as a strategic location, it also became a potential target during war. Such an attack occurred on a quiet Sunday morning. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise assault. More than 3,500 Americans (military and civilians) died in the attack and all eight battleships docked at Pearl Harbor were damaged or sunk. The most famous of these warships was the USS Arizona, which can still be viewed at the USS Arizona Memorial. Although the attack delivered the Navy a harsh blow, within a few months, the Pacific Fleet was back to full capacity for the duration of the war.

The most recent development in military history in Hawaii involved bringing a Stryker Brigade to Hawaii. A Stryker Brigade is an infantry unit that uses mechanized transportation to move troops around the field. The 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division was transformed into a Stryker Brigade, with 291 Stryker urban assault vehicles transported to Hawaii. They are based out of Schofield Barracks. The Army was also given an additional 40 square miles of land to operate on.


The federal government in Hawaii controls a total of 1,096,333 acres of land, or 1,713 square miles, according to the 2009 State of Hawaii Data Book. Not all of that land is used for military operations. The government leases 59,579 acres of private lands, or 93 square miles. The vast majority of the land it occupies, 858,499 acres or 1,341 square miles, are ceded lands, which were formerly owned by the monarchy and Hawaiian government.

The military in Hawaii creates 18,000 jobs locally every year and brings in more than $6 billion dollars in Department of Defense expenditures annually. As an economic engine, the military makes up the state’s second largest industry after tourism. Approximately 23 percent of the economy of Oahu alone is fueled by the military.

Despite the U.S. armed forces’ long history in Hawaii, there is still some friction between the local community and the military. Locals are increasingly concerned about the potentially negative effect of military operations on the environment.

“Military training and its accompanying activities –building roads, transporting troops, washing and repairing vehicles, disposing of waste, live firing exercises, compacting the earth with the pounding of heavy equipment, washing silt into water supplies and onto reefs-cause enormous environmental damage,” wrote Ferguson and Turbull in “The Value of Hawaii.”

One of the most extreme examples of the military’s impact on land is the island of Kahoolawe. The island is located six miles off the coast of Maui and once served as the home to Native Hawaiians and later cattle ranchers. Kahoolawe’s total land mass is 45 square miles. It was used by the U.S. military to test different types of munitions from 1941-1968, according to the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.

Much of the island contains high levels of unexploded munitions and it is considered dangerous to step foot on Kahoolawe without a guide who knows which areas are safe to travel. Only 10 percent of the island, or 4.5 miles of land have been successfully cleared of munitions according to the commission’s website.

  1. Source: “The Military,” by Kathy E. Ferguson and Phyllis Turnbull in “The Value of Hawaii,” 2010.  
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