Pōhakuloa Training Area changes command; Lt. Col. Alvarado replaces Lt. Col. Cronin
June 29, 2023, 10:24 AM HST
* Updated July 7, 9:45 AM
At the U.S. Army Garrison’s Pōhakuloa Training Area on Wednesday, the traditional and symbolic changing of the command ceremony took place with Lt. Col. Timothy L. Alvarado taking over for Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin.
“I definitely feel sad to leave. It’s been an incredible experience,” Cronin said of his two-year assignment on the Big Island.
While much of his job was about military operations, he also acknowledge the importance of being part of the community. Cronin recalled the night he got a call from Hawaiʻi County Mitch Roth during the Mauna Loa eruption. Roth was looking for ways to increase the safety of the community to watch the lava flow.
“Within 36 hours, we were able to open a lava viewing route on Pōhakuloa Training Area that nearly 90,000 people passed through over a two-week period,” Cronin said. “… It goes to the power of relationships and moving at the speed of trust.”
Cronin also talked about other efforts at Pōhakuloa Training Area, including conservation work to preserve native plant life on the mountains.
Cronin, with his wife and two small children, will be moving to New Delhi, India, where he will serve as U.S. Special Operations Command liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy. But he said he will never forget the Big Island.
“This is a special place,” he said. “There are so many factors that make it so wonderful. I’m going to miss it, but I know it’s in great hands.”
Cronin handed over the leadership of the training area to 41-year-old Alvarado, whose most recent assignment was at U.S. Army Special Operations Command Headquarters in Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) in North Carolina. There, he served as the vice chief of staff and operations officer for its Human Performance and Wellness Directorate.
Alvarado also was stationed on O’ahu 15 years ago and said he is excited to return to the Hawaiian Islands.
“We’ve been welcomed with open arms,” said Alvarado, who has a wife and two daughters. “Hawai’i island is so beautiful and I’m looking forward to working with the community and getting to know everybody here.”
Alvarado said he has been fortunate to have one of the longest command transitions in the military — more than a month to learn the complexities of the training area with Cronin. The two had met previously in 2020 during special forces assignments in Afghanistan.
A big task of Alvarado will be to work on extending the lease of the facility, which expires in 2029.
In 1964, the state of Hawai’i awarded a 65-year lease to the United States Armed Forces for 23,000 acres of Hawaiian Kingdom crown (“ceded”) lands at Pōhakuloa on Hawai’i island for $1.
It was first used during World War II as a live fire training area. After the war, the training area fell under the control of the Hawai’i Territorial Guard until the U.S. Army took it over in the 1950s.
The Pōhakuloa Training Area, which the military calls “The Pacific’s Premier Training Center,” now is 134,000 acres located between Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and the Hualalai Volcanic Mountains. It is a joint and combined arms facility that provides logistics, public works, airfield support and environmental and cultural stewardship in support of the U.S. Army Pacific training strategy, while maintaining an enduring partnership with the local Hawaiian community, according to its website.
That expiration date of the lease and has become a cause célèbre for Native Hawaiian activists, environmentalists and local residents concerned about the activities at the training area.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Col. Steve McGunegle, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawai’i, said part of the commander’s job at Pōhakuloa Training Area is to be a part of the community.
“We are an organization that prepares for war,” during the ceremony. “We do it diligently. We work very hard at it. But we do it with the upmost hope that the strength of our warriors and the family they built together is what builds peace in the future.
“We have to care for this place. Care for the land. Care for the ‘āina. Understand what it means for the army is not what it means for everybody. But [we need] to understand those perspectives and understand how to balance our responsibilities to the community that care for the land.”
Before Cronin departed, he thanked a long list of people.
“Pōhakuloa Training Area and Hawaiʻi Island will forever be special to my ʻohana and me,” he said. “Unlike any assignment I have ever served previously and likely any other assignment I will serve. Itʻs going to be tough to top this and thatʻs because of the mission and, most importantly, the people, you all.”
To watch the ceremony, click here.