The U.S. Army stands to lose 20,000 soldiers currently stationed here in Hawaii because of budget cuts resulting from sequestration.

Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter are among 30 possible installations the Army is evaluating for potential cuts. Come October, when a decision is expected about which bases will be affected, Hawaii could lose roughly 50,000 soldiers and civilians, or about  5 percent of Oahu’s population.

The Chamber of Commerce is currently circulating a petition to “Keep Hawaii’s Heroes,” and the Army has scheduled two listening sessions (Jan. 27 and 28) to hear concerns from the community.

Army soldiers silhouettes

It’s in Hawaii’s best interest economically for the Army to maintain its presence here.

U.S. Army

Hawaii should fight to keep the Army for two main reasons: First, the chance to positively impact America’s relations in the Pacific; and second, The cuts would deal a serious blow to the state’s economy.  But we also need to prepare to lose it.

At the Center of America’s Involvement in the Pacific

Despite its challenges, Hawaii gives the Army a unique and culturally diverse perspective on the Pacific region — a region where seven of the world’s 10 largest armies operate.

From February to July, more than 1,000 Hawaii-based soldiers are deploying to Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia. The deployments are part of an initiative called Pacific Pathways, and the goal is threefold: allow U.S. soldiers to train in different environments, be forward-deployed in case of conflicts or humanitarian disasters, and engage in diplomatic, military-to-military relations.

While the exercises are definitely idiosyncratic — in its expeditionary mission, the Army resembles the Marines — they are also innovative.

Pacific Pathways allows the Army to broaden its capabilities and leverage its many resources while complementing the work Marines have long done in the region.

The Pacific theater encompasses more than half the globe. It is home to pressing security challenges such as China’s increased militarization and the “ring of fire,” the most disaster-prone region in the world. As U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks said to the Washington Post, “There’s plenty of work to be done in the Pacific.”

As the gateway to the Pacific, Hawaii should continue to be a key player in that work.

A Serious Blow To Hawaii’s Economy

When you’re sitting in traffic, the immediate loss of 5 percent of Oahu’s population might seem like a great idea. Some people are even heralding the potential cuts as a sort of magic bullet —a way to alleviate overcrowding on the island and solve many of Hawaii’s most intransigent problems like a lack of housing.

But this utopian vision overlooks the very drastic short-term consequences.

According to Gov. David Ige, whose first job out of college, coincidentally, was as a military consultant on Ford Island, the military generates more than $14.7 billion in economic activity here. The Army estimates that it alone had a $3 billion economic impact in the state last year and without it, the state’s unemployment rate would double.

It is not hyperbolic to say that losing that activity so swiftly would, for the next 10 to 20 years at least, be devastating to the local economy. Without the jobs provided by Schofield Barracks, the communities of Wahiawa, Mililani, Haleiwa and Waialua would be in a freefall. What industry or employer would rush in to take its place?

Hawaii Should be Prepared

While politicians everywhere fight tooth and nail to avoid base closures, that doesn’t mean they don’t still happen. As it petitions to avoid this loss, Hawaii also needs to prepare itself and look for ways to mitigate the blow.

Base closures are almost always wrenching in the short term, but some communities are more successful than others at converting military facilities to civilian uses. Fort Ord in Monterey, California, is sometimes cited as an example of this.

Fort Ord saw the loss of 35,000 people when it closed in 1994. In the 20 years since, it has established an attractive national monument, built a joint Department of Defense/Veterans Administration health care clinic, and opened California State University Monterey Bay, which now has close to 7,000 students and has repurposed crumbling barracks as dorms.

While these revitalization efforts are impressive, the fact remains that the area is still bereft of any meaningful economic activity. According to Michael Houlemard, the executive officer of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA), the negative economic impact is over a billion dollars a year. FORA says delays in everything from planning to regulatory requirements are some of the biggest barriers, even now, to reuse of the area.

If Hawaii wants to avoid Fort Ord’s fate, it must fight to keep the Army here and seriously plan to lose it.

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