HILO — Self-proclaimed “local boy” Lt. Col. Loreto V. Borce Jr., commander at U.S. Army Garrison Pohakuloa Training Area, hit the ground running when he took over PTA in late May, with goals of readiness, workforce and community.
Borce, guest speaker Friday at a Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce luncheon, emphasized his work connecting with the community, some of whom have been concerned about military operations’ impact on the environment at PTA, which sits in the saddle between Maunakea and Mauna Loa.
“I really believe my center of gravity is the local community and telling the Army’s story, sharing the Army’s story, telling what we’re doing,” Borce said. “We’re being good stewards of the land. Yes, we are training, yes we are shooting artillery, we’re dropping bombs but we’re trying to be good stewards.”
Borce, born in Honolulu, and known as “J.R.” to those close to him, is responding to concerns of the community. Because he wants to maintain continuity, he’s asked the Army to give him another year beyond the customary two years commanders are assigned to bases.
He’s formalized a partnership with Girl Scouts of Hawaii and the Boy Scouts Aloha Council so the Army can assist with the two groups on service projects, special events and similar cases where manpower and labor are in high demand.
He brought in an Osprey aircraft to demonstrate to Waimea residents who were concerned about their use on the island.
And, he’s been meeting with Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, antiwar activists and others who are concerned about the Army’s impact at PTA.
Not all the activists have been satisfied with outreach efforts. Longtime antiwar activist Jim Albertini, founder of Malu Aina Center for Non-violent Education &Action, for example, pushes for the complete demilitarization of Hawaii. He’s frequently protested outside PTA’s gates and other areas where the military is active.
Kimo Wheeler, an Army special operations veteran and a member of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, praised Borce for reaching out to the community. Wheeler emphasized he was speaking only for himself, not for the order.
“J.R. has opened the door to us … Now we have someone in place who’s opened the door, it’s refreshing to have someone like J.R. who has done this,” Wheeler said. “A lot of what you may call activists served in the military, served honorably. We love the United States, but our blood is Hawaiian. And that’s why we’re just trying to say, we don’t want to lose this. We don’t want to lose what we have up here as far as spiritual and cultural things. And that’s what J.R. and the people of Pohakuloa now are trying to preserve.”
Borce acknowledged that the military and the activists have not always seen eye-to-eye.
“Ultimately, all I’m doing is trying to bridge that gap and being transparent,” he said. “That’s part of being a local boy growing up. … We still have a kuleana to take care of that land.”