HONOLULU — Hawaii is expected to keep its 22,500 active-duty soldiers, but the future of the Stryker Brigade, a team of soldiers equipped with the namesake armored vehicles, needs to be evaluated as the Army downsizes and changes its focus, according to the head of the U.S. Army of the Pacific.
“We have three additional Stryker brigades at Fort Lewis (Wash.) that we didn’t have 10 years ago,” said Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, who will soon step down as head of the Fort Shafter command. “That’s a lot of Stryker brigades.”
The fifth Stryker brigade is based in Alaska.
Wiercinski told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii’s Stryker Brigade could revert to a light infantry unit without the armored vehicles.
He said that Hawaii’s 25th Infantry Division has just one light infantry brigade as the “Tropic Lightning” division ends its Afghanistan duties and returns to its jungle-fighting roots.
“If I’m focusing the 25th Infantry Division now on Southeast Asia, and back to being the jungle fighters that they’ve always been, what’s my relevance of Strykers?” Wiercinski said.
Even though the Army overall is decreasing from about 530,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000, Wiercinski said the current Pacific total likely “is going to stay right where it is.”
The Army’s Alaska brigades are focused on Mongolia, Nepal, northern India, northern Japan and southern New Zealand, Wiercinski said, while Schofield’s soldiers are focused on Southeast Asia.
Wiercinski said when the Army pushed for a Stryker Brigade for Hawaii, there was only one other in the region, and that was in Alaska. The Army wanted the second unit in Hawaii to be able to rapidly respond in the region using C-17 cargo planes at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, he said.
“That made total sense,” Wiercinski said.
But the general said it is time to look at whether Hawaii’s Stryker Brigade should keep its 320 armored vehicles. If the Army does eventually decide to move its Stryker vehicles out of Hawaii, such a decision would reverse a more than $1.5 billion effort that’s been continuing since 2001.
Meanwhile, a $42 million Battle Area Complex at Schofield has yet to be fully used for Stryker maneuvers and gunnery because depleted uranium from an old weapons system was found in a firing impact area, requiring involvement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
It also was determined that the Stryker vehicles were better suited to larger training ranges in Washington state.
“Right now for training purposes, I can’t utilize the capability of that Stryker to maximum range,” Wiercinski said.