Army rolls out the welcome mat

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Nathanial Tresham uses a PTA Fire Department hose to put out a fake fire Thursady during Experience PTA Day.

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Tony Eaton makes a button for students from Kaumana Elementary School while they visit Pohakuloa Training Area for Experience PTA Day.

Keiki learn about a drone Thursday at Pohakuloa Training Area during Experience PTA Day. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

A dog mascot for Recognize, Retreat, Report hugs excited keiki while they walk around Pohakuloa Training Area for Experience PTA Day on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Over 200 students from nearly half-a-dozen schools came out to enjoy the annual Experience PTA Day event Thursday at the Pohakuloa Training Area.

The students and hundreds of others came to learn about the environmental, cultural and community efforts taking place at the 133,000-acre Army training space.


“It’s an amazing turnout this year, with tons of different schools and community members,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin. “PTA is such a key training area in the Pacific, but we do so much more. The team here does incredible work, and the opportunity for them to tell their story, from cultural resources to natural resources, to engage with the community, to get children excited about all these programs, it’s just a wonderful opportunity and I’m really proud of it.”

Students and families walked the PTA grounds and saw military vehicles, aircraft and drones, made buttons, saw insects, discovered plants, sprayed the fire hose, and so much more at the various stations set up for public display.

A favorite of the day was the helicopter flyover that took place at 9:30 a.m.

Looking up at the sky, attendees saw a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, and an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter circling overhead.

“The (UH-60 Black Hawk) helicopter you might recognize,” Cronin told a nearby crowd of students. “Whenever there’s a wildfire here in the community, those 60s come from Oahu, from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, and support our community and our installation with water bucket drops.”

Ten-year-old Matthew Tresham and his brother, Nathaniel, made the trek from Hilo and couldn’t wait for the flyover.

“I’m so excited to see the helicopters,” Matthew said as Nathaniel used a PTA Fire Department hose to put out a fake fire.

“The boys are really excited,” their mother, Jennifer, said. “We’ve always driven by, but this was their first chance to come.”

After the flyover, the boys got to check out an AAI RQ-7 drone, known as the Shadow.

The $2 million dollar drone is capable of flying at 115 mph at a height of 16,000 feet and was on display for the event.

“The drone was our favorite,” said Kairell-lee Cullio, a student at Connections Public Charter School.

Her friend Nelia Nelson also loved the drone and the flyover.

“We clapped when the helicopters landed,” Nelson said. “This is a very big place. I like it, and I like the weather. It’s really sunny today.”

Keiki found their way into the shade of the Quonset Huts, where they learned more about the natural resources and plants located at PTA.

“We get to see things that nobody else gets to see and work with these unique plants,” said Pomai Lyman, part of the PTA Botanical Field Crew. “I was born and raised here, and I’ve only seen some of these since I started working here at PTA.”

On display were potted versions of some of the 19 rare and endangered species of plants found at PTA.

These included the spiny popolo, a member of the nightshade family that has only 35 individuals remaining, all found at PTA.

Lyman also showed students the spotted nettle bush, and one of his favorites, the Silene lanceolata, which is more common as its pods can release up to 1,000 seedlings at a time.

“We have our own on-site greenhouse right at the entrance where we have not only threatened and endangered species, but native Hawaiian species,” Lyman said. “We try to restore the whole native Hawaiian habitat here, not just the endangered plants.”

Next door was the Cultural Resources Management Program, where students learned about the more than 1,000 archaeological sites located within PTA, including cave shelters, trails and shrines featuring pictographs and petroglyphs.

“Pictographs are painted rock art, and we only have a few on-site, but petroglyphs are when they are carved into rock, and are a lot more common here,” said PTA Archaeologist Amberle Czubernat, who led a workshop where students painted their own pictographs.

Czubernat spoke about their history and shared some of the pictographs found at PTA depicting humans, animals and canoes.

“They can be marking a special place or a special event in a life, depending on where they’re found,” she said. “For me, it’s really awesome to see the connection between ancient humans. Sometimes, we think of ourselves as separate, but as human beings, we’re pretty similar.”

Other stations from the American Red Cross, Ho‘ilina Ranch, Honokaa Heritage Center, and Mauna Kea Observatories were open for students as well.

“We’ve had a great turnout of all different schools with children and adults and veterans and local vendors,” said Sgt. Maj. Jessica Cho. “Days like today are a great opportunity to highlight the importance of transparency — it’s the community coming out to see exactly the work that we do for the community, as a part of the community.”

Outside the event were a small number of protesters from the Malu ‘Aina group. They passed out flyers citing concerns over potential military toxins, live rounds, and the upcoming state lease involving 23,000 acres at PTA set to expire in 2029.

“Pohakuloa Training Area is the key training area for our nation’s armed forces to achieve the highest levels of readiness, and is the center of gravity for military training in the Indo-Pacific region,” Cronin said. “We’re part of the community, we’re your Army, we’re your installation, and we’re so happy and proud to have this dedicated day where we can welcome everyone here, and you get to engage with the amazing team that does day-in and day-out really incredible work.”

Email Grant Phillips at

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