Gates Views Massive Growth Under Way in Guam
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam, May 30, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates got a firsthand look at growth under way here to prepare for the arrival of more than 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, by 2014.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates congratulates Air Force Airman First Class David Wood and Navy Petty Officers Reynaldo Aurellano and Jonathon Smith after administering the Ceremonial Oath of Re-enlistment to them on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 30, 2008. Gates is on a seven-day trip visiting the Pacific and to attend the 2008 Shangri-La Dialogues in Singapore. Defense Dept. photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary took a helicopter tour of Andersen Air Force Base, Naval Base Guam and other island facilities to see construction already started in preparation of the arrival of members of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and an estimated 9,000 family members.
Gates noted that the inbound Marines trace their lineage to the 3rd Marine Amphibious Corps that landed in Guam in 1944 to liberate the island.
The incoming Marines and families, in addition to another 4,000 active-duty sailors, airmen and soldiers slated to arrive, will double the U.S. military presence here.
“All in all, it will be one of the largest movements of military assets in decades and continue the historic mission of the United States military presence on Guam: to serve as the nation’s first line of defense and to maintain a robust military presence in a critical part of the world,” Gates said.
That’s especially critical now, in light of “the diffuse nature of the threats and challenges facing our nation in the 21st century -- a century that will be shaped by the opportunities presented by the developing nations of Asia,” he said.
During his visit here, Gates met with Gov. Felix Camacho and military leaders to hear their assessments about the move. He vowed to ensure construction -- estimated at $3 billion to $4 billion a year -- proceeds in a manner that respects the local population.
“The people of Guam have been hospitable to our military forces for a very long time, and we want to keep that relationship strong as we go forward and deal with issues associated with the growth … in a way sensitive to the needs of the people of Guam as well as our military,” he said.
The changes ahead are part of a broader Alliance Transformation Realignment agreement between the United States and Japan. “As a sign of how much the world has changed, this move comes with the help of our close ally, Japan,” Gates said.
Japan has agreed to contribute about $6 billion toward the cost of facilities, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling with Gates. The United States will contribute about the same amount toward the move, he said.
The posture change will reduce the U.S. footprint in Japan to about 10,000 Marines, Morrell said, while taking advantage of opportunities provided in Guam.
“We envision Guam to be of great importance to our Pacific strategic force posture for decades to come,” he said.
A U.S. territory more than 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, Guam offers a prime strategic location with ready access to potential hot spots throughout the Pacific as well as to U.S. allies, explained Air Force Brig. Gen. Doug Owens, commander of 36th Wing and Andersen Air Force Base. It’s two to five hours by air and two days by ship from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia and other key western Pacific locations.
This forward location reduces time required to respond to a crisis or contingency in the region. For example, one of the two Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft that delivered relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Chengdu, China, flew from Guam.
“This is not just another base,” a senior defense official traveling with Gates said. “This is a place where you can project power from the continental United States and Hawaii -- ships, aircraft and land troops, as well.”
But increasingly, Guam is emerging as a node for multilateral security cooperation in Southeast Asia and for alliance transformation in Northeast Asia, the official said. “It is integral to the force posture transformation,” he said.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney emphasized Guam’s strategic importance during his visit here in February 2007. That importance, he said, will only increase in the coming years as Marines from Okinawa relocate here.
“By positioning forces on Guam, the United States can move quickly and effectively to protect our friends, to defend our interests, to bring relief in times of emergency and to keep the sea lanes open to commerce and closed to terrorist threats,” he said. “The island may be small, but it has tremendous importance to the peace and security in the field.”
Another compelling reason for increasing the U.S. military presence in Guam is its status as a U.S. territory, deep in the Pacific. That gives military planners and operators far more leeway in conducting operations than they typically find at an overseas base.
On the island’s north side, Andersen Air Force Base offers ready access to air space -- something quickly shrinking in the continental United States, Europe, Korea and Japan. At the same time, it features some 7.5 million square feet of ramp space and extensive open space to support future infrastructure growth, Owens said.
Guam also offers the Air Force’s largest fuel supply in the United States, its largest supply of weapons in the Pacific, and a valuable urban training area in an abandoned housing area at a site known as Anderson South. These facilities provide a platform for U.S. forces to surge where needed in the theater.
A new facility under construction will house the Pacific’s Global Hawk unmanned drone operation, with three of the aircraft due to arrive here next summer, Owens said. In addition, the base is preparing to become the new home of the incoming Marines’ aviation unit and to accommodate the Marine ground forces’ deployments.
“On the Air Force side alone, there’s a very exciting future ahead for us,” Owens said. “Andersen in six years won’t look anything like it does today.”
To the south, Naval Base Guam, with its protected deep-water harbor, is home port to three attack submarines. The base is building up its infrastructure, increasing inner Apra Harbor’s capability to accommodate aircraft carriers, and expanding the training opportunities it’s able to offer.
The biggest challenge for Guam to reach its potential is ensuring its infrastructure keeps pace with the need. “There are a lot of interconnected pieces here,” Gates said. “There are a lot of pieces of this jigsaw puzzle that have to come together at the same time.”
Navy Capt. Bob Lee, director of the Joint Guam Program Office overseeing the effort, said he’s confident the incoming Marines will have the “the latest and greatest” in facilities awaiting them when they arrive.
“That’s why the groundwork we are laying here is so important,” he said. “We need to ensure we do all our planning up front, and get it right.”