Army shifts its focus to the Pacific theater in training exercise

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There’s been speculation on whether the Army will cut down on the number of personnel here in Hawaii in order to cut back its budget.

Col. Ken Hawley, commander of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade said Sunday that while that decision has not yet been made, he strongly supports keeping troops here in the islands, and not only for strategic purposes.

“We’re here to help you as well if called upon should anything happen in Hawaii,” he said. “But we’re also part of the community, too. It’s such a great thing for us.”

Hawley made his comments during military exercises held Sunday at Dillingham Airfield. With troop deployments to the Middle East winding down, the colonel said that the military is re-focusing on Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In fact, thousands of soldiers here are in the middle of an elaborate training exercise on Oahu and Hawaii Island, preparing for large threats and natural disasters.

The Army gave KHON2 a close-up look on what the “Lightning Forge” exercise looks like — that meant getting on an aircraft with members of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

At approximately 0900 hours, a CH 47 Chinook touches down at Dillingham Airfield. Soldiers, unsure of where they’re going, obediently pile into the aircraft.

In this military exercise, some will play American citizens, the others soldiers. They’ll be flown to an “evacuation point” — in this case, Pearl Harbor — as part of a non-combatant evacuation operation. From there, soldiers will undergo field training either here on Oahu or on the Big Island.

Over 4,000 soldiers are taking part in “Lightning Forge.”

Col. Hawley said “the reason why we’re doing this mission is the likelihood of some kind of humanitarian assistance, or disaster relief exercise, or a non-combative evacuation.”

“It could be an embassy, or American civilians living abroad in a country torn up by storms, tsunamis, hurricanes, or just a strike within that country,” added Lt. Col. Hunter Marshall, command 325 Aviation, Wheeler Army Airfield.

“Lightning Forge” is a unique mission — it’s part of a developing Army deployment concept called “Pacific Pathways.” The government is shifting attention to the Pacific area of operations as they increase more Army forces. The military branch is focusing on disaster relief response and effectively addressing national threats.

“While there’s a lot of water, there’s also a lot of land,” said Col. Hawley. “Seven of the world’s largest armies are located in this theater.”

“It not only gives us the opportunity to go abroad to, quite frankly, build relationships with folks, and hopefully preclude something horrific as war,” Lt. Col. Marshall said, “but additionally, here, even in Hawaii, the opportunity to provide direct support to civil authority should we be asked.”

In the event that Hawaii is devastated by natural disaster, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team is skilled to move citizens safely out of harm’s way. “Protecting American citizens is always the primary concern of the government, whether it’s here or another nation.” the colonel said.

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