Fort Lewis not likely to get Hawaii brigade

It's looking doubtful that Fort Lewis will become the new home of a Stryker brigade that is training in Hawaii.

An independent military analyst said the Army wants to keep the 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, and an Army official acknowledged that stationing a fourth Stryker brigade at Fort Lewis is problematic.

The Army is looking at brigade locations outside Hawaii as the result of a court decision in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups. The Army is required to examine other sites and prove that Hawaii is the best suited, in terms of the environment, for the site. The examination is aimed at backing up claims the Army made in an environmental impact statement that it conducted before choosing the Hawaii site.

This work likely will reinforce the Army's initial decision, said John Pike, director of the Web site globalsecurity.org, an online resource for military and security information.

"They may have failed to dot their I's and cross their T's for their environmental assessment, but they sure had some internal analysis of alternatives that led them to Hawaii. They didn't just pull it out of a hat," he said.

In late January, the Army began holding meetings to gather public comment about moving the brigade to Fort Lewis. No residents attended the final planned meeting, held in Lakewood a week ago.

Paul Thies, chief of environmental planning for U.S. Army Environmental Command, said Fort Lewis and the Hawaii post couldn't simply exchange brigades. If the brigade were moved to Fort Lewis, the Army would want a light-infantry brigade to move to Hawaii, he said. Fort Lewis doesn't have a light-

infantry brigade available for such a move.

"We'd have to put a fourth unit here and go to one unit in Hawaii," Thies said. "That's the dilemma we're in."

A light-infantry brigade essentially consists of foot soldiers driving in Humvees. A Stryker brigade offers soldiers more protection with the eight-wheeled armored vehicles and high-tech communications equipment on the battlefield.

The Army said in 2004 that the Hawaii-based brigade, a light-infantry unit based at Schofield Barracks, would convert into the fifth of a planned seven Stryker brigades using new and expanded training facilities on two of the islands, Hawaii and Oahu. The 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division is the other infantry brigade at Schofield Barracks.

Three environmental groups sued, saying that the heavier Stryker vehicles would damage the islands' environment and cultural resources.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October that the Army violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not considering other locations outside Hawaii when it completed its assessment of the environmental effects of the brigade's transformation.

The Army now has to supplement that assessment by looking elsewhere. It will evaluate whether the five Army posts still under consideration could meet the brigade's training requirements and properly support the military families.

The plaintiffs' attorney has said moving the brigade to Fort Lewis made sense because the post already has the needed training facilities, as well as enough room.

The Army will need to spend an estimated $600 million on new or expanded training areas, firing ranges, barracks and headquarters buildings to serve a new Stryker brigade at any new site, Thies said.

The court has allowed 2nd Brigade to commence its transformation in Hawaii on a limited basis. The brigade is scheduled to deploy to Iraq later this year.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com. What's next

The Army is scheduled to release its draft supplemental analysis for public review and comment in May. A final decision on where the brigade will end up is expected in October.

At Fort Lewis

One of the Stryker brigades based at Fort Lewis is deployed to Iraq, and a second will follow in April.

About 32,000 active-duty and Reserve soldiers are permanently assigned to the Army post, said J.C. Mathews, garrison spokesman for the Army post.

In addition, the 3,800 soldiers who will fill the ranks of Fort

Lewis' newest Stryker brigade - the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division - have started to arrive at Fort Lewis.

The Army plans to invest $2 billion through 2013 to accommodate all of this growth, Mathews said.

Posts under consideration

Fort Lewis is one of several posts under consideration to house the 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. The others include its current home, Schofield Barracks in Hawaii; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Richardson, Alaska.