Which Bases Are Vital to Keep?

By: Trustee Rowena Akana
July, 1994

Source: Ka Wai Ola o OHA

The military recently launched an aggressive public relations campaign to prove its need for Bellows Air Force Station, even as it cuts its activity on the ceded property.

A presidential communications station soon will be moved to another location, leaving family recreation at beach cottages and occasional Marine Corps amphibious assaults as the last two activities on the sprawling oceanfront property.

The media recently were invited to record for the public a staged assault on Windward O’ahu. The First Expeditionary Brigade attacked the beaches of Bellows for the invitees, who dutifully reported the event as news.

What was the point of this exercise? The military says it was to prove how important Bellows is for the defense of our nation and to remind residents what happens to the economy if the military retreats.

Bellows was left off this year’s base closure list. But another round of closures has already begun and it’s about time Congress and the Department of Defense take a closer look not only at Bellows, but some defense bases as well.

Until now it has been necessary for the Hawai’i public to justify its opposition to military activity in the islands. Hawaiians fought vigorously against the use of sacred Kaho’olawe as a bombing target. The Kamaka family fought (and lost) its battle to keep the military from condemning land held by them since Kamehameha III.

The question should not be which bases to close. The question should be: which bases are vital to keep open? The Pentagon and Congress have neither the cold war mandate nor the taxpayer pocketbooks to afford themselves the military luxuries of the past. It’s about time both learn to live within the taxpayers’ means, not the other way around.

Zero-sum budgeting–where an agency justifies resources it needs, rather than fighting for what it already has–is a possible solution. It forces decision makers to start from scratch every budgeting cycle. It leaves little room for pork barrel defense contracts or under-utilized military bases which crawl across the Hawaiian Islands.

Bellows is not the only base the military can do without. Ft. Shafter rents space to other agencies. Ft. Armstrong has been tossed around as a site for a convention center. Ft. DeRussy offers nothing but a rest and recreation facility that could be transferred somewhere else.

There are other sites Hawaiians and the general public could argue to close, but it really is the job of the military and Congress. For once it would be nice if one of these institutions were forthcoming with suggestions on how to trim budget fat, redress century-old wrongs and strengthen the Hawaiian economy.

Why must the public harangue our leaders to lead us?

Rumor has it that Admiral Charles Larson is on the short list to replace General Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Larson responded to criticism of the military’s continued possession of Bellows with a threat to pull the First Expeditionary Brigade from Kane’ohe Marine Corps Air Station.

Wherever he goes, perhaps the admiral will have the opportunity to ponder the consequences of a nation that lives beyond its means at the expense of the population it has sworn to defend.

Military preparedness and thrift do not have to be mutually exclusive goals. Those leaders with a mind to, can accomplish both. Rep. Neil Abercrombie is one leader who deserves our support in this battle.