While the Guam Chamber of Commerce has a plethora of committees that beat the drum on behalf of Guam’s business sector and the chamber’s 330 members the group leading the charge these days is the Armed Forces Committee.

The Armed Forces Committee has eclipsed the other committees in both popularity and in fund-raising efforts and is the only committee to have its own page on the chamber’s Web site.

Scarcely a week goes by without its 143 members receiving an invite to one or another function offering a chance to mix and mingle with officers and personnel of military groups located on Guam or visiting the region for military exercises or port visits.

In June the committee hosted:

• A June 8 reception at the Westin Resort Guam to jointly farewell Capt. Robert McNaught commanding officer of the naval base; and David Boone commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas;

• A June 13 reception at the Outrigger Guam Resort for the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing Operations Group;

• A June 21 reception at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa for personnel of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and its air wing the USS Princeton (part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group); and

• A June 24 reception at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa to farewell both Rear Adm. Arthur Johnson commander of Naval Forces Marianas; and Col. Paul K. “P.K.” White commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing at Andersen Air Force Base.

The committee also recommends to the military invitees for change-of-command ceremonies and wardroom receptions held on board visiting ships although on some occasions all members of the committee receive invitations. The committee hosts an annual salute to the U.S. Armed Forces on Guam. The 7th annual salute will be held July 19. The Armed Forces Committee raffle grand drawing will be held at the occasion if the committee sells 1 500 tickets which are selling for $25 each and one free ticket for every 10 purchased.

Eloise R. Baza president of the chamber said “Events are well attended. It’s an opportunity for people to meet face to face and communicate directly in a social setting and to demonstrate the hospitality that Guam is famous for.”

But apart from its social aspect the committee has a number of other services it offers to members. The committee:

• Prepared white papers on Guam which have been circulated to U.S. Department of Defense officials in Washington D.C. and Guam. These have also presented committee officers a chance to lobby for Guam and make high-level contacts. Military officials on Guam have recommended that these efforts to keep Guam in the military eye be continued.

• Sponsored seminars on topics specific to doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense such as a seminar on government purchase cards on May 26 which attracted 40 members; a June 23 briefing on the Department of Defense finance and accounting system expected to attract 60 to 70 attendees; and an upcoming seminar on base access and security issues. Baza told the Journal “The chamber is now collecting vendor information from its membership for a chamber resource directory (company names product offerings etc.) which we will then make available to the approximately 600 purchase-card holders. These are individuals who work for the federal government on U.S. military installations and have the ability to make purchases from our downtown businesses through a credit card. We anticipate that this resource directory will be available in the next six weeks.” She said the directory would be made available electronically.

• Held quarterly breakfast meetings at which the most senior personnel of the Navy the Air Force the Coast Guard and the Guam National Guard give reports and updates on events and matters of interest. Members of the committee also have an opportunity to ask questions concerning topics that interest them. The next breakfast is scheduled for July.

• Hosted an annual Downtown Fair at which vendors companies and organizations have an opportunity to present their offerings to various segments of the military. The last fair was held in October at the Outrigger Guam Resort for personnel of Submarine Squadron 15 and the U.S. Coast Guard.

• Fund-raised although many donations are in-kind or sponsorship of committee receptions. Dues based on company income include attendance at three receptions and party attendance at $15 includes two drink tickets and food.

• Offered links on the committee page on the chamber’s Web site to Andersen Air Force Base Navy Guam bids the Military Sea Lift Command the Defense Fuel Supply Center the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers the Electronic Posting System Commissaries and the National Weather Service.

The committee was formed on Sept. 9 1998 by the board of directors of the chamber and formally established with the military on Nov. 5 1998. It was the brainchild of what James L. Adkins president of East West Rental Center called “the four amigos”: Atkins; Thomas P. Michels formerly vice president and Guam country manager of Bank of Hawaii; Gerald S.A. Perez general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau; and L. Carl Peterson owner and president of Money Resources Inc.

The charter chairman of the committee was Allen A. Pickens coordinator and training coordinator for Tax-Aide and then managing partner in Deloitte & Touche LLP. Baza said “We worked together on putting together the mission statement.”

Perez told the Journal “When we first started to talk about this we knew that it was an important effort that could be strategic in terms of leveraging economic diversification and Guam’s economic base and although we had an idea we would get good participation from the membership I had no idea it would grow to the extent it did.”

He said that many of the committee members invest a lot of personal time and funds in the committee not least in the trips to Washington D.C. “It’s a tribute to the members’ appreciation for the value of the military on Guam and the economic benefit and the security benefit for an island of the U.S. One of the reasons for success in our relationship with the military is we can be candid and frank with each other at a level that ensures personal confidence and trust.

“The critical mass of support has enlarged to the point where others can weigh in and make a contribution and we encourage that.”

Peterson was at the first meeting of the committee.

He said “I don’t think we had any preconceived notion; we acted out of conscience that the people on Guam did not want the direction things were going in and we needed to tell that story. The single reason for the Armed Forces Committee was to ensure that our economy could produce the jobs that would be needed for young people in our communities. This committee was really started because of the exodus of people to the mainland because a certain element was saying they didn’t want the military here. Nobody spoke up and the people were suffering from it. We got the various leaders together and we said ‘Is this the goal of Guam?’ We did a survey and 86% said they wanted the military here and wanted more of them.”

The success of the committee is due to relations of mutual respect and reciprocity between the military and committee members Peterson told the Journal.

“The Chamorro culture is one of reciprocity; we’re doing what is prevalent in the culture to reciprocate as well as all the personal family and business relationships. We keep focus and we are consistent in our message.”

Baza said military personnel were active with input from the beginning. “When we formed the Armed Forces Committee there were initial discussions with the local military leadership who demonstrated a desire to grow relations between the military and our entire community. That desire has continued to this day which is the key reason why the committee has been able to make tremendous progress in relationship building.”

She said some of the committee’s initial ideas have proved successful.

“When the group of business leaders got together it was Gerry Perez who recommended that the chamber pursue the military R&R market. In June 1999 eight months after the board of directors formed the Armed Forces Committee the commander of Naval Forces at the time Rear Adm. Jonathan Greenhart announced Guam’s designation as a priority quality of life port for U.S. 7th Fleet ships.”

Baza said the Maritime Affairs Committee of the chamber with 30 members as the next largest. “In terms of attendance at our committee meetings — depending on the pressing issue for the various sectors — attendance can go up as high as 50 people but on average attendance is 15 to 20.

The committee’s mission statement says “The Guam Chamber of Commerce Commander U.S. Naval Forces Marianas/ USCINCPAC Representative Thirteenth Air Force 36th Air Base Wing Guam National Guard and U.S. Coast Guard Marianas Section have agreed to foster mutual respect and a congenial working relationship between businesses and the military communities; promote cooperation through the free flow of information; and insure fair treatment for local business with the military.”

Stephen V. Nygard publisher of the Marianas Business Journal was one of the first members of the business community to sign up for membership of the committee.

He said “At the chamber functions it’s often difficult to get more than a passing word with the military folks particularly as they usually are seated with officers of the chamber. At the Armed Forces Committee breakfasts and functions everything is more relaxed. It’s an opportunity for all of us to develop relationships and have conversations that better our understanding of day-to-day events.

“I also appreciate the opportunity to talk frankly with people at various levels of the military at the receptions. I know they also feel comfortable asking all sorts of questions about Guam whether they’re stationed here or on a port visit.”

Nygard said support of the committee had permeated through Glimpses of Guam parent company of the Journal. “Our staff certainly enjoy the chance to participate at events like the Downtown Fairs and similarly I think it encourages the military to include committee members in all sorts of occasions and visits to facilities once they realize the interest is there.” Nygard is also a member of the Armed Forces Committee of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce. MBJ