Not Your Basic Bivouac

Hale Koa Hotel celebrates 35 years of serving those who serve our country, in style and luxury. Over the years, nearly 3 million military members and their families have come to Hale Koa for rest and relaxation

Steve Murray
Wednesday - May 26, 2010
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Hale Koa Hotel is a safe haven for our military men and women, and the Army runs it without a dime of taxpayer money

Hale Koa Hotel is having a birthday. Thirty-five years ago, the Ilima Tower and its 420 rooms opened to the appreciation of United States military members in search of an affordable getaway. Now, after the construction of a second tower and renovations totaling $63 million on the first, the hotel that for three decades has serviced those who serve has grown into the state’s ninth-largest hotel and a Waikiki landmark.

One may not realize it driving past or even upon entering its spacious and comfortable lobby, but the Hale Koa is a military installation in the same way that Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks are. Well, not entirely the same. Few venture onto those bases to enjoy a quiet stay with pampered service.


Though the hotel is owned by the U.S. Army and was forced to upgrade security and add “force protection” elements to its property following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the “House of the Warrior” doesn’t look like a military installation, and that is exactly the point. The hotel, along with the other Armed Forces Recreation Center Resorts in Virginia, Florida, Germany and South Korea, serves as an oasis for servicemembers where they can escape the regiment of their daily lives, reconnect with family after a long deployment, or just relax on the beach or by the pool and let someone take care of them for a change. In fact, the only real reminder of the hotel’s ownership, besides the guests in uniform, is a small display for the Hawaii Army Museum at Fort DeRussy.

“We know the people who serve in the military are very proud of the work they do, but when you are on a typical-looking garrison or military base you work on, you don’t want to go on vacation to a place that looks like where you work,” says Richard LeBrun, the hotel’s general manager. “Each resort offers something different, whether it is skiing in Germany, in Hawaii with its white sand beach, Seoul, which is a big city resort with Asian flavor, or a Disney theme park.”

General manager Richard LeBrun chats with visiting soldiers on the lush, historic Hale Koa grounds

For a resort as popular as the Hale Koa is with families, the solitude is impressive. No doubt that is another attraction for action-weary servicemembers. Wherever you go on the property, silence follows. Much of this is created by the design of the hotel and the careful use of native plants that segments areas, absorbs sounds and offers extended privacy.

The idea of using the the 72-acre plot of “undesirable” land - which is how the land was described when the Army purchased it in 1906 - for the rest and relaxation of military members came long before the first tower was completed in 1975.

Starting in World War II, the location was the site of the Fort DeRussy Recreation Center. Seven years later, the property was officially designated as an Armed Forces Recreation Center. Accommodations weren’t as posh as today. During the Vietnam War, servicemembers unwound in Quonset huts where they slept in bunk beds. To say the least, things have gotten a lot better.

A far cry from Hale Koa’s modern luxury, the site was used by the Army since 1904

Hale Koa now boasts 817 rooms, three restaurants, three lounges, two snack bars, seven banquet rooms, three swimming pools, a health club, outdoor volleyball, handball and racquet-ball courts, tennis courts and, most important, a long-serving staff with whom many returning guests have developed friendships.

“It is amazing how many of the guests know the employees’ names. Hotel guests knew that I was new,” says the affable general manager, who promotes the close relationships between guest and staff.

“We are not a regular business. We encourage our employees to interact with the guests and make them feel like they are truly family. They come here because they are special, and only certain people can come here and those people appreciate the extra attention.”

And the staff likes the interaction as well.

“I love this place,” says Rex Bermundo, who has worked at the hotel for 34

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