Army downsize proponents make themselves heard

Despite being outnumbered at the Army listening sessions, proponents of a dramatic Army personnel reduction were able to make a successful case for the full downsize.

News Report
Will Caron

The Department of Defense (DOD) held a pair of listening sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, inviting the community to testify for or against proposed military downsizing on the island of Oahu. Congress wants the military to reduce its numbers nationwide and the DOD is deciding which bases, spread over 18 states, to pull personnel from. The DOD’s own recommendation calls for a reduction of army personnel by 19,800.

Tuesday’s session took place in Waikiki at the Hale Koa hotel, while the second took place in Wahiawa, directly adjacent to Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Airforce Base. At the first session, the audience was roughly evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the downsize, but testimony heavily favored supporting the downsize, with approximately 48 testifiers in favor compared to around 12 opponents.

“I think all in all it went very well for supporters of Army downsizing,” said community activist Kyle Kajihiro about the first session. “I was pleased that so many supporters of downsizing came out, testified, and endured the five hour meeting. I did not know most of the army downsizing supporters. It shows that there is a strong undercurrent of opposition to the military to generate that kind of turn out.”

“I think we we’re outnumbered a little in total participants (about 250), but our crew had more stamina and drive and stayed late for the chance to testify,” wrote Al Frenzel, a retired Col. and director of the Oahu Council for Army Downsizing in a summary sent out to downsizing supporters. According to Frenzel, union workers and Chamber of Commerce members were among the opponents in the audience.

After a briefing by the Army representatives, Senators Hirono and Schatz, and Representatives Gabbard and Takai each spoke from Washington D.C. in opposition to Army downsizing. Then Governor Ige spoke, also in opposition; this was followed by a speech from Mayor Caldwell, then State Senator Will Espero, and several other politicians as well, all in opposition.

“The politicians kept getting up to speak for 5-8 minutes each—it was killing us mentally,” wrote Frenzel. “Probably a total of 10 speeches, and it caused the crowd to raise their voices in protest—we we’re an hour and a half into the hearing and the people hadn’t got a chance to speak.”

“The opening portion went on for more than an hour with generals and politicians making the case for the Army to not downsize,” confirmed Kajihiro. “It became clear that this was going to be the only visual and soundbite for the media.”

The audience became frustrated as the VIP speakers continued, and some began to interrupt. Others stood up and tried to get in line speak, and some people began to chant, “Let the people speak.”

Mayor Caldwell also delivered around 40,000 signatures for the Keep Our Heroes group set up by the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. Around 1,200 signatures were delivered for the Oahu Council for Army Downsizing by the granddaughters of retired Lt. Col. Joe Estores.

Testimony in support focused on several themes previously outlined by The Independent. These included costs to the environment, inflated rental housing costs, burden on schools and infrastructure, opportunities to develop alternative economies, military role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the occupation of Hawaii, the taking and destruction of Hawaiian land, Hawaii’s unsuitability for Army training and readiness, the high cost of maintaining bases in Hawaii for the Army (and therefore the taxpayers), downsizing as a first step toward base closure and conversion of land, and repairing historic wrongs committed by the U.S. military in Hawaii. (Full cost-benefit analysis of the military presence in Hawaii here.)

Opponents of downsizing talked about the necessity of a large Army presence in Hawaii to ensure U.S. national security, contributions Army spending makes to the economy, patriotism, and the strategic location of Hawaii. 

“The fact that the large majority of speakers testified in favor of Army downsizing I think impressed upon the panel that there is a serious problem between the army and significant portions of the community,” said Kajihiro. “I’m sure that Hawaii is the only place the panel visited where so many in the community welcomed the downsizing and blasted the army for their history of negative impacts.”

State Representative Kaniela Ing testified in favor of the downsize, providing a thoughtful, open-minded rational for Army downsizing. He was the only member from either the State House or State Senate who voted “no” on a pair of anti-downsizing resolutions pushed through the Legislature.

“As you may know, HCR3 and SCR3, strongly opposing the Army’s reduction, have been rushed through the Legislature. There were no hearings and the pressure for a unanimous vote was tremendous,” wrote Rep. Ing in a Facebook comment to supporters of the downsize. “Unfortunately, I was the sole ‘no’ vote of 76 legislators.”

Mayor Caldwell and Governor Ige, along with most of the other politicians, left before 9:00 p.m. when members of the public could finally begin testifying.

The second session in Wahiawa did not go so positively for proponents of the Army downsize.

“I’d say testimony was maybe 10 to one in opposition to the downsizing. The audience was probably 25 to one [in opposition],” said Tina Grandinetti, a supporter of the downsize who testified on the second night. “It was pretty tense actually. The audience boo’d down some of the supporters of downsizing during their testimony. The Army officials were super respectful though, and let everyone speak, even if they went over time.”

“[The leader of the Army team, Mr. McLaurin,] was very gracious to the audience on both nights and sat attentively for five hours straight both nights with no bathroom break or sign of disinterest,” wrote Frenzel. “Being used to only one and sometimes two minutes to testify with our political leaders we we’re pleasantly surprised by the allowances given by the Army team.”

Most of the opponents of the downsize once again focused on economic concerns, appreciation for the Army and the Army community, and the strategic importance of Hawaii for national defense.

“We have been conditioned to rely on military money, even though our economy sinks with each deployment, and even though it means catering to an industry that does not understand our culture or our history,” said Grandinetti in her testimony on Wednesday. “Ultimately, we have been conditioned to think that without the military, we will fail … Like us, my mother’s community in Okinawa has also been forced into dependence. Our brothers and sisters across the Pacific have been forced into dependence. We have all been forced into dependence.

“Since the military backed the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, it has acted as though this land and its people are disposable resources. And it has used this ʻāina to train soldiers to fight wars, to take other ‘disposable’ lives and lands around the world,” continued Grandinetti.

“That’s why this rare opportunity to transition to a more just and sustainable economy is so important. We are not disposable, and we have the ability to adapt,” she said. “Imagine a housing market that is no longer inflated by military housing and cost of living allowances. Think of the exciting potential that could arise if military infrastructure was made to serve the people of Hawaii. What if retired military and their dependents decided to shop at local businesses instead of the commissary? Imagine ʻāina being returned and rehabilitated after years of abuse and contamination.”

“[T]he Army team will go back to D.C. with the clear understanding that not all of Oahu is against downsizing and there is a sector of the community who wants the military out for past wrongs and illegal actions,” wrote Frenzel. “Both of these perceptions will not be witnessed at any of the other 18 States—this is unique from the other States and will clearly weigh upon the Army’s recommendations. For this reason, participants should be proud and have hope.”

The Oahu Council for Army Downsizing has set up a petition asking our Congressional representatives and local politicians to support the downsizing. The petition can be found here.