When Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin takes over as garrison commander of Pohakuloa Training Area in June, his tenure will include overseeing an environmental impact statement and negotiations for the Army to retain its lease of nearly 23,000 acres of state land in the saddle between Maunakea and Mauna Loa.
The lease retention process is a major priority for the military, Maj. Gen. James “Jamie” B. Jarrard, commander of the 25th Infantry Division and U.S. Army Hawaii, told the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce on Monday. Jarrard, guest speaker at the teleconferenced annual membership meeting for the business group, said the limited size of ranges on Oahu means PTA plays a vital role in maintaining military readiness in the Pacific.
“It is vitally important to the United States Army and also the United States Marine Crops and also the Hawaii National Guard. It is critical to our ability to maintain readiness,” Jarrard said. “So that we can maintain readiness no matter what our nation asks us to do, that we can go and win.”
The current 65-year lease between the military and state of Hawaii in 1964 expires Aug. 16, 2029, but work is already in progress, including a draft environmental impact expected to be published next spring. The Army last fall held scoping meetings and took the first round of public input for the lease retention.
The lands, the largest contiguous live-fire range in the state, have been used routinely for military training since 1943, and the state-owned land has been leased by the Army since 1964. Under the lease, the Army paid $1 for the entire 65-year period.
Army officials say PTA is a good neighbor, providing jobs, economic drivers and community assistance. For example, PTA staff provide fire and rescue services for a 420-square-mile area and maintain collections of endangered plants for conservation. The training area’s 230 employees live and contribute in communities across the island, but primarily in Hilo. Units coming in for training also engage in community projects from beach cleanups to building playgrounds.
Construction at PTA is pumping money into the economy by employing more than 100 construction workers in two projects — new troop barracks and drainage and utility updates — totaling $37 million, PTA Public Affairs Officer Michael Donnelly said in a press release last month.
“The combined construction contracts involve more than 100 trade workers from the local area doing masonry, heavy equipment operations, utility work and general labor,” he said. “During the pandemic, these types of contracts provide consistent and well-paying jobs to Hawaii Island based families.”
Not everyone is happy with PTA’s presence on the island. Local activist Jim Albertini, who consistently leads protests and sign-wavings at PTA’s gates, called for a broad-based citizen movement such as stopped bombing maneuvers on the island of Kaho’olawe.
“All the lands at Pohakuloa should be cleaned up by the US military and returned to the Hawaiian people,” Albertini said in a Sept. 15 email. “An important step in this process of de-militarizing Pohakuloa and Hawaii is to stop the PTA lease extension. “
Cronin is expected to take over June 4. In the meantime, he is on island, familiarizing himself with the various communities under the guidance of the outgoing commander, Lt. Col. Loreto “JR” V. Borce, under what Donnelly said is known as “orientation onboarding.”
Cronin previously served as special assistant for Middle East, Africa and cyber policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs and as a policy advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2003 and holds a Master in international public policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, according to the bipartisan nonprofit Center for a New American Security.