Guam, because of its military bases, Army anti-ballistic missile system and location 3,300 miles west of Hawaii is an increasingly important strategic hub for the U.S. Asia-Pacific rebalance, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said today.
Work’s visit here was part of a seven-day trip that began with an Aug. 17 stop in Hawaii and will include visits this week with officials and military leaders in South Korea and Japan.
Today the deputy secretary met with Gov. Eddie Calvo, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, and local U.S. military commanders.
Work also spent time touring defense facilities, observing progress on the Marine Corps Air Combat Element infrastructure, facilities under construction at the Andersen Air Force Base north ramp, and several projects at Apra Harbor, Guam’s major seaport.
Work also addressed 100 Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard service members, taking questions and photographs and handing out challenge coins from his office.
“As the undersecretary of the Navy,” he told them, referring to his 2009-2013 term in that office, “I was here when we first started thinking about rebalancing to the Pacific.
He added, “We didn't call it that at the time, but Guam has always been a central part of our plans. Certainly a central part of the Navy's plans but now a central part of the entire Department of Defense's plans.”
Guam, an island 36 miles long and 12 miles across at its widest point, has a warm and humid tropical marine climate and military installations that are some of the most strategically important U.S. bases in the Pacific.
In 2009, Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base on Guam were merged into Joint Region Marianas.
Naval Base Guam itself is a consolidated Navy installation with components around the island. The base is home of Commander Naval Forces Marianas, Commander Submarine Squadron FIFTEEN, Coast Guard Sector Guam, and Naval Special Warfare Unit One.
The base supports 28 other tenant commands and is the home base of three Los Angeles class submarines and to dozens of units operating in support of U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Seventh Fleet and Fifth Fleet.
The host unit at Andersen Air Force Base is the 36th Wing, a nonflying wing whose mission is to support deployed air and space forces of USAF and foreign air forces to Andersen, and support tenant units assigned to the base.
At the troop talk, Work explained the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific as a rebalancing of military forces, a strengthening of alliances and a way to boost the region’s economic power.
“We're going to have 60 percent of the Navy out in the Pacific and we're going to have 60 percent of our combat air forces out in the Pacific,” he said. “But it's not just about military things.
“It's about strengthening our alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia,” Work continued, “and our other partners in the region. A lot of people forget about that -- they just … start to count ships [and] airplanes.”
The other part of the rebalance involves an initiative called the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, he said, a proposed regional free-trade agreement now being negotiated by participating countries.
“This is a big trade pact that, if we're able to swing it, is going to make a big difference for a lot of Americans and an awful lot of Asians,” Work said. “It will be one of the biggest trade pacts we've ever had.”
One issue that affects the defense build-up on Guam is the eight-year-old effort to relocate a large number of Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam, a senior defense official traveling with Work said.
The original plan called for 8,000 Marines to relocate from Okinawa to Guam, plus as many as 9,000 family members, by 2014, for a cost that ranged from $10 billion to $18 billion.
In 2012, what had been called the U.S.-Japan Realignment Roadmap was modified through influence of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
According to the senior defense official, the same number of Marines would now come off Okinawa but only 5,000 would go to Guam, with others going to Australia and Hawaii.
“We also reorganized into a more operationally relevant posture, what's called a Marine Air-Ground Task Force -- MAGTF. So we'll have something like a special MAGTF in Australia, a MAGTF in Guam, a MAGTF in Hawaii, a super MAGTF in Okinawa, meaning a MAGTF plus the [Marine Expeditionary Force] headquarters,” he explained.
Many of the units will be rotational and the operational nature of the deployment will reduce the number of family members that need housing, the official said, adding that the environmental impacts and costs also are significantly reduced.
“Our estimate now is $8.7 billion to do the move … and it will probably take until 2025 to finish, the official said. “And we certainly have gotten much broader support across the spectrum in Guam for this smaller footprint.”
Work explained the realignment in another way to the troops here.
“As far as the Asia-Pacific goes, Marines are being distributed around the Pacific -- 5,000 Marines are going to come here to Guam, 2,500 Marines are going to Australia, some Marines are going back to Hawaii [and] about 3,500 Marines are going up to Iwakuni, [Japan],” the deputy secretary said.
The Army will be active in the Asia-Pacific too, he said, noting that seven of the world’s largest armies are in the Asia-Pacific region, and soldiers would be good at contributing to training capacity building in the region.
Another part of the defense buildup on Guam began in April 2013, when arrangements began to move a ballistic missile defense system called a terminal high-altitude area defense battery, or THAAD, and soldiers to run the system, onto Andersen Air Force Base.
Threats from North Korea prompted the move, which because of the limited number of THAAD systems yet built was said to be temporary. But the senior defense official said Gov. Calvo and Rep. Bordallo have publicly asked that the system be kept on the island permanently.
Task Force Talon coordinates the system, combining THAAD, military police and communications in a joint working environment with the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base and the Joint Region Marianas Headquarters on Guam. The 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command provides mission command of Task Force Talon.
THAAD is a land-based element that can shoot down a ballistic missile inside and just outside the atmosphere. It uses hit-to-kill technology; kinetic rather than explosive energy destroys the incoming warhead.
Back with the troops, Work answered questions about the defense leadership, Iraq, and the effects of budget constraints on training and force structure.
The deputy secretary also shared stories about his own time as a Marine, and then expressed much he appreciated the dedication of service personnel.
“Thank you,” he said, “for serving in what I consider to be the greatest military the United States has ever put on the field.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)