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Hawaii’s strategic location in the Pacific Ocean has made it an important center for various military operations and training activities over the years. If you’re short on time, the 11 current and former major military bases in Hawaii are: Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter, Tripler Army Medical Center, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Pearl Harbor naval bases, Coast Guard bases, Hickam Air Force Base, Wheeler Army Airfield, Pohakuloa Training Area, Makua Military Reservation, and Kahoolawe Island reserve.

History of Military Presence in Hawaii

Strategic Significance for US Military

The Hawaiian Islands have been vitally important to the US military since the late 19th century due to their strategic location in the central Pacific. As the midpoint between the West Coast and Asia, Hawaii provided an ideal location for projecting US power across the Pacific.

In 1887, the US was granted exclusive rights to establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu. This ushered in over a century of heavy US military presence on the islands.

During World War II especially, the strategic value of Hawaii became evident. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Hawaii functioned as the nerve center and staging ground for major Allied operations in the Pacific theater.

Numerous military installations were rapidly built across Hawaii as over 400,000 troops were stationed there during the war.

In the postwar period, Hawaii retained its frontline position as the headquarters of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) – now known as US Indo-Pacific Command. It continues to serve as a vital jumping-off point for deploying US forces to potential hotspots in the Asia-Pacific such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

The islands host the Pacific’s largest concentration of US air and naval power spread across multiple bases.

Key Historical Events

Some key events and developments related to Hawaii’s military history include:

  • 1887 – US granted exclusive rights to build naval base at Pearl Harbor
  • 1898 – Hawaii annexed by US after overthrow of Hawaiian kingdom
  • 1941 – Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, spurring US entry into WWII
  • 1943 – Construction of Bellows Air Force Station completed
  • 1948 – Establishment of US Pacific Command (USPACOM) in Hawaii
  • 1957 – Wheeler Army Airfield designated as headquarters of US Army Pacific

The timeline stretches from the late 1800s when Hawaii became important for power projection across the Pacific, through WW2 when it proved central for victory in the Pacific, up to the present day with Indo-Pacific Command overseeing US military strategy in Asia and the Pacific from its Hawaii headquarters.

Current Major Military Bases in Hawaii

Schofield Barracks

Located on the island of Oahu, Schofield Barracks is one of the largest military installations in Hawaii. Serving as headquarters for the US Army Hawaii garrison, it hosts the 25th Infantry Division, known as the “Tropic Lightning.”

Today over 16,500 soldiers and 9,000 family members live at Schofield which has airfields, training areas, and ranges for troop readiness (25th Infantry Division).

Fort Shafter

Adjacent to Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter is home to the US Army Pacific headquarters (USARPAC), responsible for army forces in the Asia-Pacific region. Fort Shafter assists coordination between military branches for training and operations.

An interesting bit of history – the land was previously used as a royal palace and retreat for Hawaiian monarchs in the mid-1800s.

Tripler Army Medical Center

As Hawaii’s only federal tertiary care hospital, the Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) provides state-of-the-art care. Located on Oahu, its emergency department is one of America’s busiest for emergency medicine training of military medical professionals (TAMC).

Marine Corps Base Hawaii

Known as MCBH or the Kaneohe Bay base, it hosts air, ground, and logistics units essential for the Marine Corps’ Pacific and Asia-Pacific operations. Beautiful landscapes surround MCBH, which covers coastal lands of windward Oahu and has facilities including airstrips, training ranges, maintenance buildings, headquarters, housing, and recreational centers.

Pearl Harbor Naval Bases

The Pearl Harbor base area has seven separate facilities with over 170 tenant commands and 50 ships homeported in Pearl Harbor. As one of the U.S. Navy’s major regional headquarters, it provides extensive training to Pacific fleets.

Located eight miles from Honolulu, Pearl Harbor today is still an active naval base after its iconic WWII history (Commander, Navy Region Hawaii).

Coast Guard Bases

America’s Coast Guard maintains a constant presence in Hawaiian waters for maritime safety and security. Key stations are located at Barbers Point, Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, and a Pacific Area command at Oahu.

Fast response cutters and aircraft patrol an area covering over 12 million square miles of ocean!

Hickam Air Force Base

Originally built for WWII bombers in Pearl Harbor, Hickam today hosts over 7000 Air Force members as a central mobility and transport hub of the Pacific. Airlift and refueling wings fly missions across the Asia-Pacific region and globe from Hickam, while also providing facilities for transiting forces (Hickam AFB).

Wheeler Army Airfield

Wheeler Army Airfield has squadrons providing rotary-wing aviation support for USARPAC units training throughout the Hawaiian islands. Aviation components stationed there also conduct search and rescue missions across the Pacific.

An interesting fact is that Wheeler was a principal fighter airfield during the December 1941 attacks.

Pohakuloa Training Area

Located on Hawaii Island, the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) serves as the largest live-fire range complex in Hawaii with over 23,000 hectares of training lands. Military units from all branches utilize PTA to develop combat readiness skills.

Live-fire exercises include small arms, FAAD, anti-tank, attack helicopter, and aviation rocketry.

Makua Military Reservation

Used by US Army Pacific forces, Makua Valley on Oahu Island contains the Makua Military Reservation used for jungle training and live-fire exercises. Its remote location surrounded by the Waianae mountain range provides a real-world environment for testing soldier skills.

Kahoolawe Island Reserve

The smallest Hawaiian island, Kahoolawe was used extensively as a bombing range until 1990. Cleaned of ordnance and now a nature reserve, access is limited but native Hawaiian cultural activities and these days the island represents rebirth and life’s regrowth.

Impact on Local Economy and Culture

The presence of 11 major military bases across the Hawaiian islands has had a significant impact on the local economy and culture. Here are some of the key ways the bases influence life in Hawaii:

Economic Boost

The military bases provide a major boost to Hawaii’s economy. According to a 2021 study, the bases contribute over $8.7 billion to the state’s economy each year and support around 102,000 local jobs. Key economic impacts include:

  • Direct spending by military personnel on goods, services, and housing
  • Military construction projects that employ local workers
  • Contracts for local businesses that provide services/goods to bases

Without the infusion of military spending, Hawaii’s economy would be far smaller.

Cultural Influences

The large military community in Hawaii also influences local culture in various ways:

  • Intermarriage between military personnel and locals has influenced traditions
  • Military families participate in community cultural events
  • The diversity of military members brings new cultures/ideas
  • Bases hold celebrations of Hawaiian culture for military members

While tension between military and local culture can occur, overall the cultural exchange enriches life.

Infrastructure Investments

Military spending in Hawaii also powers infrastructure projects that benefit residents, including:

  • Roads connecting bases to local communities
  • Upgrades to power grids/utilities serving bases
  • Environmental conservation projects on military lands
  • Community facilities built through Defense Community Infrastructure Program

In the 2019 fiscal year alone, Hawaii received $397 million in military construction funding from the Department of Defense.

While not without challenges, the net impact of Hawaii’s vast military presence seems to be a positive one – fueling the economy, influencing local culture, and investing in infrastructure.

Future Developments

The military presence in Hawaii will likely continue to play an important strategic role in the future. Here are some potential developments:

Increased Focus on the Pacific

As global superpowers like China continue to grow their naval capabilities, the US military is expected to prioritize its presence across the Pacific. Hawaii, with its central location, will remain a vital hub for US military operations, training, and readiness in the region.

Investment in Cutting-Edge Technology

To maintain its competitive edge, the Department of Defense is investing heavily in new technologies like hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. Bases in Hawaii with space and resources for testing, like the Pacific Missile Range Facility, will likely take on more of these high-tech defense projects.

More Cooperation with Allies

The US and allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand continuously look for ways to strengthen their military partnerships and interoperability. We may see more multinational exercises, exchanges, and even shared bases in Hawaii as this cooperation deepens.

Infrastructure Improvements

While military construction budgets can fluctuate, efforts are being made to modernize Hawaii’s bases through public-private partnerships and other flexible funding models. Priorities include renovating substandard housing, upgrading medical clinics, and hardening facilities against extreme weather and climate impacts.

Community Outreach and Support

As Hawaii relies economically on its military bases, installation leaders work closely with state and local governments on issues from employment to land use to environmental stewardship. More partnerships and programs that benefit both civilians and service members will likely emerge.

Hawaii’s strategic location and extensive military infrastructure position it well to continue enabling US deterrence and power projection capabilities. Through sustained investment and strong connections with Hawaiian communities, the military presence is expected to remain robust for decades to come.


In conclusion, Hawaii has a long history of military presence due to its strategic location, dating back to the late 1800s. Today there are still nearly 100,000 military personnel across 11 current and former major bases that play a vital role in training, operations, and Pacific regional security while also contributing billions to the local economy.

The future remains uncertain but Hawaii will likely continue as an important military center for the foreseeable future.

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