After three years at the helm, Lt. Col. Loreto “JR” V. Borce Jr. on Tuesday passed the baton — or, more accurately, presented the colors — of Pohakuloa Training Area to Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin.
The Honolulu-born Borce’s command was extended a year in what is usually a two-year assignment to continue work on renewing the lease of 23,000 acres of ceded state land on the 134,000-acre installation, located in the saddle area between Maunakea and Mauna Loa.
The lease expires in 2029, and a draft environmental impact statement is in the works.
The change-of-command ceremony at the PTA’s theater had much of the military pomp and circumstance one would expect, including the national anthem, “The Army Song” — a modified version of “Caissons Go Rolling Along” — and testimonials to both officers.
Military brass in attendance included Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the 25th Infantry commanding general; Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr., joint staff director of the Hawaii National Guard; and Col. Daniel Misigoy, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii.
Island dignitaries included Mayor Mitch Roth, former Mayor Harry Kim, state Reps. Richard Onishi and David Tarnas, and County Council members Sue Lee Loy, Ashley Kierkiewicz and Tim Richards.
Misigoy said Borce “has tirelessly built relationships across communities on the island — relationships based on empathy, respect, mutual understanding and transparency.”
Turning his attention to Cronin, Misigoy said, “Kevin, congratulations on command. I look forward to working with you as you continue to build relationships and lead the premier training area of the Pacific and the most consequential region for our entire nation.”
The ceremony also contained unexpected as well as only-in-Hawaii touches, such as “Aloha ‘Oe” and a hula danced by Borce’s wife, Kekai, and his sister, Soloia Kamauoha. A brass quintet plus drums from the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, played not only the expected numbers, but also “The A-Team” theme, jazz standards “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock and “Spain” by Chick Corea, and “Malagueña” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.
Borce, whose next assignment is a senior service college at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, called Tuesday “a bittersweet day for the Borce ‘ohana.”
“It seems like only yesterday that I … began with a warm welcome from all of you on this very spot,” he said. “And here we are today, having experienced this 36-month time warp filled with experiences, memories and new friendships that we will carry with us forever.
“I cannot think of any other three-year period in my 21-year career that has affected me as profoundly as this one. I do not think anything the future holds for my professional career can top the last three years. And it’s not just because we have the privilege of living on the best island. It’s not because the daily signs of Maunakea, Mauna Loa, rainbows, dolphins, liquid sunshine and the beautiful ocean. It’s simply because of the people, the people we had the privilege of serving and the fundamental concepts of aloha and ‘ohana.”
Cronin, whose last duty station was a NATO assignment in Europe, said he’s “incredibly humbled and honored to serve in this capacity.”
“Short of leading our nation’s men and women in combat, there’s no higher calling, in my opinion, than that of contributing to their combat readiness — men and women who are prepared to defend our nation at a moment’s notice,” he said. “… I believe there are three traits that make military organizations great: the people, support from the community and the mission. Here at Pohakuloa, we clearly have those three ingredients in spades, which means this is one fantastic assignment that I will not take for granted.”
Cronin, who’s originally from Rowayton, Conn., has a master’s degree in international public policy with a concentration in strategic studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He and his wife, Anne, a foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State, have a month-and-a-half-old daughter, Anna, born at The Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea.
“It’s incredible to take command of this organization,” Cronin told the Tribune-Herald after the ceremony. “Pohakuloa is a special place — and to have the stewardship for Pohakuloa itself, and also the soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors who come here to train is a powerful responsibility, and I’m just honored and humbled to have it.”
According to Cronin, training “has to be the No. 1 priority.”
“But just below that — and it’s the priority that runs through the other priorities — is community, which is so important,” he said. “You know, we serve in the name of our community, so maintaining close ties with the community is critical for people who serve in the military.
“We had a good, long transition, so I feel very comfortable. I have a lot to learn, but I have a good start based on what the team here has given me and what JR’s given me with introductions to the community.”
Anne Cronin, who’s originally from San Diego, said her last assignment was in The Hague, The Netherlands, but she’s currently on maternity leave.
“My current duty station is Mom,” she said.
Of the new addition to their family, she said, “It’s really lucky for her to be born in Hawaii and to spend some of her formative time here. We’re so happy to be here.”
Asked about the challenges of being a career diplomat married to a career soldier, Anne Cronin replied, “For one thing, it’s always a challenge to try to line up, geographically. So we get creative and just do the best that we can.”
“You get real good at traveling,” added Lt. Col. Cronin.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.