“The Pentagon is going to ask what is a sailor going to get coming to Guam versus what he already has at a home port back in the States ” said Rear Adm. Arthur J. Johnson commander of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas.
Location is one of the biggest factors the Pentagon will take into account in the ongoing U.S. Department of Defense’s Global Defense Posture Review Johnson said but quality-of-life factors will also play a part.
“Are there reliable utilities? Are there enough schools and medical facilities? Is there adequate housing? Are there outside employment opportunities for family members who have careers? These are the critical questions that the DoD will examine because the welfare of personnel is crucial to the retention of servicemen and women in the U.S. Navy as with the other branches of the armed forces ” Johnson said.
The Global Defense Posture Review is a wide-ranging study by the Department of Defense. The study is expected to relocate U.S. military assets including a carrier strike group from one of the Pacific or Atlantic Fleet bases in the continental United States to a home port in the Pacific closer to Asia.
Both Guam and Hawaii are being eyed for such a possibility and have been making concerted efforts for the status of being a home port to such a massive military presence.
The magnitude of receiving such generosity is not lost on the interested parties. With close to 6 000 crew members hosting a carrier strike group means an almost immediate economic bounty because of an increase in demand for basic necessities such as housing transportation and other services. It is estimated that Guam as a home port to a carrier group would have over $400 million injected into the local economy.
However although Guam is at “the crossroads of the Pacific ” location is not the sole factor considered by the Department of Defense.
Balancing the scale are quality-of-life infrastructure issues; the capability for maintenance repair and service of a flotilla of vessels and the air wing that make up a carrier strike group; environmental conditions; the ability to train and maintain readiness; and — underpinning all of the above — the financial investment.
Johnson said quality-of-life provisions are a critical criterion because there are tradeoffs that sailors and their families have to make when they are stationed outside of the continental U.S.
Lobbyists from Hawaii’s business community and state politicians have claimed Hawaii does not have housing and school shortages nor lack of job opportunities nor problems from typhoons an environmental concern that bedevils Guam.
Adm. Walter Doran commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet reportedly told business leaders in Hawaii that “Pearl Harbor is a logical place in the Pacific to base an aircraft carrier and its accompanying air wing ” if other issues can be resolved. Those issues include the environmental impact of jet noise pollution in heavily populated areas and availability of training sites.
Doran also reportedly told Hawaii’s business leaders that it would cost more to develop facilities in Guam than at Pearl Harbor. Basing a carrier in Hawaii would cost the Navy more than $4 billion according to a 1999 Navy environmental impact research statement. No investment figure has been reported for Guam except broad claims by Hawaii politicians that it would be steeper.
Madeleine Z. Bordallo Guam’s delegate to Congress is not ceding Guam’s chances to Hawaii just yet. She said “There have been several statements made by leadership within the military that Hawaii is a desirable home port but also that a number of issues raised previously when the Navy last considered such a deployment have not yet been resolved. I expect that the latest study which is still ongoing will consider these issues but I would not like to speculate on the outcome.”
James L. Adkins president of East-West Rental Center Inc. and chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the Guam Chamber of Commerce said if the Navy is considering a home port for a carrier in the Pacific Guam’s location is more strategic. “We’re talking about hours or a couple of days in response time as opposed to a week or two weeks from elsewhere if there’s trouble in the region. We also have open air space for training and Farallon de Medinilla as a training range in the Northern Marianas unlike Hawaii where you’ll be competing for air space with commercial jets and lack of live training grounds because of residential settlements ” he said.
Adkins said the total savings in transit cost of a carrier strike group would more than make up for the cost of building the infrastructure in Guam required to support a carrier strike group.
However he said one of the biggest hurdles for Guam is slow progress in improving the island’s water supply and quality and wastewater systems to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stipulated Orders. Adkins said this was one of the key components in the quality-of-life provisions that the Department of Defense keeps in view. “The Guam of Chamber of Commerce has looked at long-range plans for at least the past six years to cultivate and increase military presence on island. We’ve had delegations to Washington D.C. a few times to present updates to senior officials at the Pentagon. Our most recent visit in early April this year was to let the top brass know we’re addressing their concerns on quality-of-life issues ” he said.
Bordallo has been working with Guam’s political leaders and the chamber to raise Guam’s profile in the nation’s capital and emphasize the strategic benefits the territory can offer.
She said Guam’s challenge is that the Department of Defense has yet to make the investment in Guam to enable a dramatic increase in force presence.
“Given the continued downward trend Guam suffered from two previous rounds of Base Realignment and Closures it’s difficult for the Navy planning to immediately reverse course but I hope they do so. The people of Guam and Chamber of Commerce are doing their part in welcoming the turn-around that’s been taking place gradually ” she said.
Johnson said reversing cutbacks and reinvestment by the Navy on Guam has started and will continue.
He cited plans for two new Department of Defense schools to be built to complement the current four schools. The two new military campuses include a high school on Naval Hospital property and a new elementary and middle school on the Naval base. Construction is slated for fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2006 respectively.
The Navy also recently spent $50 million on major overhaul and maintenance service of the submarine tender ship the USS Frank Cable at Guam Shipyard. The Frank Cable left the shipyard’s dry dock on May 5.
As reported in the Journal in mid-December the third Los Angeles class fast-attack submarine the USS Houston will arrive on Guam to join its two other sister submarines the USS City of Corpus Christi and the USS San Francisco. With the arrival of the Houston enlisted crew and officers of Submarine Squadron 15 including the Frank Cable surface ship will swell to 1 550. Dependents of the USS Houston will number approximately 200 to 300 people. The Navy also told the Journal the location of three more submarines in Guam is being considered (See “Navy looks at three more homeport subs for Guam” in the May 17 issue of the Journal.). The Navy population as of March 2004 was 3 903 active duty Navy personnel and 3 456 Department of Defense civilian staff. The total military presence on Guam is 6 093 which includes Navy Marine Air Force and Army personnel.
Upturn in investments aside the possibility of a carrier strike group — or increased Navy surface ship presence —poses other challenges for Guam.
While old Navy barracks housing is being demolished and facilities to house young single enlisted personnel this would not fill Navy needs.
Johnson said “If 10 000 personnel were to be transferred here we won’t be able to meet the housing needs. I’m currently running a deficit in family housing units for staff with dependents. We’re short of about 500 such units on- and off-base. I’ve about 1 500 Navy personnel currently leasing housing outside.”
He said the quality of accommodation is as much of a concern as the quantity. “We’re concerned if they meet safety standards when a typhoon should hit or if there’s an earthquake. And the basic necessity of consistent water supply and quality is of great concern too ” he said.
As for the capability to maintain repair and service a carrier group Johnson said such a capability is a combination of hardware and software.
Infrastructure at Apra Harbor has to be substantially upgraded and expanded to home-port an aircraft carrier —including new equipment pier spaces new docks and warehouses. There are plans to deepen the inner harbor but construction dredging will only begin in 2006. In terms of “software ” Johnson said the Department of Defense would look at whether there is sufficient expertise and knowledge outside the carrier group’s own technical team for maintainance service and repair personnel.
He said “There needs to be a pool of technical expertise outside to supplement the carrier group’s own technicians whose capability are for immediate and intermediate needs. In order to have that sort of capability you need to have some sort of apprentice program in place to develop the technical expertise.”
Adkins said if jobs were created as a result of enlarged military presence people would flock back to Guam to work. “Since perhaps 1997 skilled labor has left Guam. Some 25 000 island residents may have left for opportunities elsewhere. But if there’s an employment boom here people will come back. No doubt you’ll get a transient work force from the States if good jobs are available but they’ll be putting money into Guam’s economy through taxes and spending. The local work force will benefit from this outside expertise through transfers of skills. We’ve told the military that Guam has nearly 2 000 high school graduates and about 800 college graduates every year who join the labor force and these young people can be trained as apprentices ” he said.
While it is difficult to control forces of nature Johnson said plans for Guam’s location in “Typhoon Alley ” and unpredictable conditions must be factored in when the Department of Defense reviews its repositioning of assets.
Managing this environmental factor and improving infrastructure on Guam comes down to financial investment. Either way enormous sums of money would be needed whether the Department of Defense decided to base a carrier strike group in Guam or Hawaii.
Adkins said the financial element was crucial. “If investments start coming in then other things will follow suit. You’ll have the capital to build the infrastructure and improve the quality-of-life conditions. Guam can give excellent returns on investments with its strategic advantage of being close to potential hot spots.”
Joaquin P. Perez district director for Bordallo said there’s no indication yet of how the current review on repositioning of assets is going and what Guam may or may not see coming its way. “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has stressed that the final decision will be a military one and not one influenced by politics or the media ” Perez said.
Johnson said it’s a given that the Pentagon will move a strike group to the Pacific.
He said “The Pentagon has been conducting this study even before 2001 because the threat of war nowadays is very different from the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. As we go forward into the 21st century we can see that crises can occur anytime anywhere. Threats are not isolated anymore to one particular area especially with the emergence of transnational terrorism. The U.S. wants to be able to respond quickly and effectively so having their deployable forces in a strategic location makes sense.” MBJ