POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii --
Officials with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, and U.S. Army, Pacific, came together Jan. 10 for the Cooper Airfield ribbon cutting ceremony, the first of several planned improvements to the Pohakuloa Training Area.
The training area, owned by USARPAC and located on the Island of Hawaii, is a 108,683 acre facility used by numerous Hawaii-based Army and Marine Corps units for annual training requirements and preparation for deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other obligations around the world.
Despite being the largest training facility in the Hawaiian Islands, the proximity of Quonset huts, built in 1956, to the facilitity’s primary airstrip, Bradshaw Airfield, limits the kind of training and aircraft that can be used on PTA.
In an effort to modernize training on the facility by utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles, MarForPac and USARPAC pooled their resources to construct Cooper Airfield.
“Operating unmanned aerial vehicles is a new capability that we’ve added to PTA,” said Brig. Gen. John J. Broadmeadow, MarForPac deputy commander. “We could have operated off of Bradshaw, but now we have a strip that’s dedicated to what’s becoming a very important capability for both the Army and the Marine Corps.”
Broadmeadow and Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Chaves, deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard, U.S. Army, Pacific, attended a Hawaiian purification ceremony, known as a Pikai, to signal the completion of the Cooper Airfield project.
The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., is the nearest premier training facility available to Hawaii-based units. MarForPac and USARPAC hope to improve PTA in an effort to make training on Hawaii comparable to the facility in California.
“We could never replace (Twentynine Palms.) However, there are some great advantages to improving the training facility at PTA,” Broadmeadow said. “We have the Army’s 25th Infantry (Division) and several III Marine Expeditionary Force units stationed here in Hawaii, so we all see the need, collectively, to make a world-class facility out here in PTA.”
One advantage PTA offers is the environment replicates several of the high-altitude conditions Marines experience when deployed to Afghanistan, Broadmeadow said.
But in order to accommodate the full range of aircraft the Marine Corps and Army have at their disposal, there are still numerous improvements that must be made.
“Since we do the majority of our training at PTA, it only made sense to build Cooper (Airfield) there and to improve the runway already located on the facility,” said Andrew Hofley, MarForPac’s aviation training consultant.
According to Hofley, MarForPac wants the Bradshaw Airfield to at least accommodate KC-130Js, fixed wing transportation and refueling aircraft, which would increase the training value of the facility and could potentially save the U.S. millions in taxpayer dollars every year by eliminating the need to contract airlines and buses to transport service members and equipment to the facility. It would also avoid the roads leading to PTA, which require extensive repair.
In addition to the joint aviation goals, MarForPac officials also hope to develop an ammunition supply point and equipment storage sites, thus eliminating the need to ship all equipment to and from the other Hawaii installations for each exercise.
USARPAC hopes to improve more than 35 miles of road, build guard towers and repair the 58 firing points located on PTA.
Another project being discussed is digging a well to provide fresh, potable water to units training at PTA and potentially to the local population as well.
According to Hofley, Marine units spend $1.7 million a year transporting water to the facility. The well could alleviate or even do away with the cost of transporting water.
With more than 135 projects proposed between the two services, USARPAC plans to utilize Marine Corps and Army engineering units to offset the cost of the improvements and provide engineers with additional real-world training in the process, according to Army Lt. Col. Chad R. Walker, officer in charge of the 14th Engineer Detachment, 130th Engineer Brigade, a unit tasked with overseeing and developing a five-year plan for improving the facility.
“The goal is joint capabilities as opposed to single-service capabilities,” Broadmeadow said. “The Army asked (MarForPac) for its support in establishing that five-year plan to help develop those joint-service priorities, and I believe that’s very important and look forward to working with USARPAC.
“It’s also important to remember this is more than a partnership between the Army and Marine Corps, it’s a partnership with the local community as well,” he continued. “The blessing that was done at Cooper is something that is very unique to Hawaii. That respect for local customs is as important as the cooperation between the Army and the Marine Corps and it’s something we are very mindful of here in Hawaii.”