Hawaii Military Appreciation Recognition Luncheon
May 11, 2012
- I have a moral obligation to ensure our Soldiers are trained and ready.
- Community Service awards included 1st Sgt. Raymond Myers, assigned to the U.S. Army, Pacific Reception Detachment.
HONOLULU -- May 10, 2012 The Army's top commander in the Pacific told a gathering of Hawaii's leading business and civic leaders that training Soldiers and taking care their families are his top priorities as the nation's focus shifts to the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking at the 27th Annual Military Recognition Luncheon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Pacific, said that while the Army's long-standing commitment to Hawaii remains strong, however contentious issues surrounding training and the positioning of forces forward remain a key challenge for the Army in the Pacific.
"I have a moral obligation to ensure our Soldiers are trained and ready," Wiercinski told the crowd of nearly 1,000 people in attendance.
Wiercinski noted that the Army brings more than $700 million in federal contracts annually to Hawaii businesses and then has to spend millions more to train Hawaii-based troops in other states because of restrictions on local training areas. Wiercinski would like to see those troops train closer to home in Hawaii to increase their time with family while reducing the cost to the American taxpayer.
"We need to be able to train and deploy from where ever we place our forces," Wiercinski said. "We must also know that our families are being cared for so that we can do our job with a clear mind. To do that, I need your help."
The timing of this year's luncheon was a sobering reminder of the selfless sacrifices of America's military service men and women now serving in harm's way and a fitting tribute to the U.S. Army and the storied 25th Infantry Division.
Against the sunny backdrop of Waikiki Beach, while hundreds were gathered inside the Hilton's Coral Ballroom to pay tribute to troops and their families at the annual luncheon May.10, the date also marked an ominous occasion. As U.S. flags across the state were lowered to half staff, hundreds more Army Soldiers and their families were gathering outdoors on the lush grounds of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl to honor a fallen Hawaii Soldier, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Don Viray, 25. The Army helicopter pilot from Kalihi Valley, near Honolulu was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan April 19 and laid to rest at that fateful afternoon.
While the luncheon program opened on a somber note as Chamber President and Chief Executive Jim Tollefson requested that all attendees pause for a moment of silence to remember Viray and his fallen comrades, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nicholas S. Johnson, 27 of San Diego; Spc. Dean R. Shaffer, 23, of Pekin, Ill; and Spc. Chris J. Workman, 33, of Boise Idaho, who also perished when the helicopter went down in Helmand province April 19. The pause in the day's tribute to the military offered a sobering reminder to all who had gathered that freedom is not free.
Heads bowed throughout the elegant dining room packed with civilians and military service men representing all branches of service to honor of the Soldiers who were the the first casualties of the A Company, 2nd Battalion 25th Aviation Regiment, the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, out of Wheeler Army Airfield. The 25th CAB's deployment of 2,600 Hawaii Soldiers began in January, 2012.
The mood lifted when Army spouse Olivia Perez-Breland took the stage and performed her original song "There You Go Again" while attendees enjoyed a meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings, compliments of the Chamber of Commerce and its corporate sponsors.
Among the day's highlights were musical performances by the 25th Infantry Division's Tropic Lightning Band and the presentation of Outstanding Contributions in Community Service awards, which included 1st Sgt. Raymond Myers, assigned to the U.S. Army, Pacific Reception Detachment at Fort Shafter. Myers and other service members proudly accepted awards for selflessly devoting thousands of hours of personal time in the local community, mentoring at schools, coaching sports, serving meals the homeless, cleaning beaches and trails of debris and other worthy causes.
When it came time for keynote speaker Wiercinski, to take the stage, he began by presenting lei to Hawaii next generation of military leaders, recognizing high school seniors from across the state who are the 2012 Appointees to the Military Service Academies, including his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Wiercinski began his keynote address with the presentation of the U.S. Army, Pacific Command Video which recaps the Army's legacy in Hawaii and across the Pacific and current threats to our national security while a map of the USARPAC area of responsibility was distributed to every attendee.
"Our Nation is currently refocusing on the Asia-Pacific, "Wiercinski said. "The fact is, we never left. This region has been vital to the U.S. economy and security since the 19th century."
Wiercinski pointed to the recent success of the Asia Pacific Security Summit (APEC) in November, 2011 and other global events that have renewed the world's attention to Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region. "The world sees Hawaii as an even more vital for U.S. military forces," Wiercinski said, "The world's three largest economies are in our AOR."
Other noteworthy facts he mentioned in the speech are that the region is also the location of the world's four most populous countries, seven of the world's ten largest armies are in this region and 21 of 27 Chiefs of Defense are Army leaders, giving land power tremendous influence and credibility. "Threats to security and stability in Asia and the Pacific pose grave consequences to the global economy we all benefit from having military forces strategically positioned throughout the Pacific," Wiercinski said.
On the local front Wiercinski noted the Army's outstanding record of environmental and cultural stewardship throughout Hawaii. "The army spends millions helping preserve the aina," Wiercinski said. The Army protects more than 100 endangered species and 1,000 archaeological sites and historic structures throughout the state and has won numerous national awards for these efforts. Hawaii is home to the largest Army garrison in the Pacific and includes 20 installations from the Big Island to Kauai and includes six major training areas.
Like many Soldiers before him, Wiercinski told the crowd that Hawaii is his adopted home. "I'm planning to live the rest of my life in Hawaii" he told the crowd. "I'm a kamaina, I've been traveling for the past 30 years, but Hawaii is home."
The luncheon concluded with a medley of service songs as members of each military branch rose to salute their service. It concluded with the Army song and in true honor and tradition, the Soldiers in attendance sang loud and proud, each stance that "the Army goes rolling along…"