(MILITARY TIMES) Most Americans have heard of the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Some are also aware of the air base next door called Hickam, where Japanese planes destroyed U.S. bombers during the 1941 aerial attack.
On Sunday, the two historic sites will cease to be separate bases, merging into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. They will be among 26 installations across the country that are combining to form 12 joint bases as the military strives to become more efficient.
Commanders are bringing together two very distinct military service cultures — while making sure one doesn’t dominate or overwhelm the other. The large role the Japanese attack has in the national memory gives them an especially solemn responsibility to preserve and protect the historic sites within their grounds, military officials said.
“We are caretakers in this effort for the sake of all who came before us and actually died on our fields,” said Col. Giovanni Tuck, commander of the 15th Airlift Wing and the Air Force’s leader in the merger. “We just need to make sure we do this right by them.”
Pearl Harbor and Hickam have been close but distant neighbors for decades. They’re right next to one another on the southern edge of Oahu, but each have their own schools, golf courses, bowling alleys, churches and other facilities.
A chain-link fence divides the two properties — even though the only people they’re keeping out are other military personnel. In 1975, the Navy even built a sentry post from where guards screened those crossing between the bases. On Sunday, sailors and airmen will take down part the fence in a symbolic ceremony.
The bases encompass multiple historic landmarks.
There’s the old barracks at Hickam that still displays holes from machine gun bullets Japanese airmen fired during the attack. The building now houses the Air Force’s headquarters for the Pacific region. It’s not far from a distinctive water storage tower, called the Freedom Tower, that Japanese pilots avoided shooting at because they thought it was a religious shrine.
In Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona and the remains of more than 1,000 sailors and Marines lie where the battleship sank on Dec. 7, 1941.
The base’s century-old shipyard is where workers completed one of the fastest repair jobs in history: in a few days in 1942 they patched up the USS Yorktown after the aircraft carrier had been severely damaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Their quick work gave the U.S. the firepower it needed to defeat the Japanese at the Battle of Midway and begin the push across the Pacific.
“We’re turning the page in both of these historic organizations,” said Capt. Richard W. Kitchens, the Navy commander leading the joint base effort. “We’re joining them and changing their names. That’s not something we should take lightly.”
The decision to join the two bases dates to 2005, when an independent panel on military bases recommended they merge. The commission recommended similar unions across the country to save money and create a more efficient military. In some cases, many of these bases aren’t next door neighbors. In Alaska, for example, Elmendorf Air Force Base and the Army’s Fort Richardson are combining.
About 4,500 of the military and civilians working on the two bases — less than 10 percent of a total workforce numbering 50,000 — have jobs in departments that will be combining. The new base doesn’t plan any layoffs. It would only eliminate positions by not replacing employees who retire or quit.
The base will likely even see a net increase of some 5,500 personnel over in coming years as the Navy shifts new Virginia-class submarines to Hawaii and the Air Force brings in F-22 fighter jets and the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft.