BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
Most of Guam’s residents are accustomed to seeing military aircraft overhead, and to the casual observer who visits Andersen Air Force Base in the summer, the home of the 36th Wing may appear its usual orderly self.
But Andersen Air Force Base is hosting the lion’s share of upcoming Army activity, as well as other forces.
The U.S. Army’s Defender Pacific 2021 runs from June 25 to Aug. 10.
Brig. Gen. Jeremy T. Sloane, commander of Andersen and the 36th Wing told the Journal, “Defender Pacific is the larger Army program which we’ve got out here — with the Forager 21 [personnel], as they’re coming through — to do a lot of different expeditionary [operations] capabilities.”
Sloane said, “Forager 21 is going to be the primary users of our tent cities. We’ll have a tent city on main base and a tent city on Northwest Field.” Two other Army tent cities are in Guam. “They’ve got operations all across the island; the vast majority of the Army operations are going to take place up here on Andersen,” the general said.
Activity will take place throughout Guam “We do have other exercises across the island, bringing the overall island exercise capability up towards 6,000 folks,” he said.
In addition, about 1,200 U.S. Marines will be “boots on the ground” in Guam for the Freedom Banner exercise.
Freedom Banner is an annual 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force U.S. Marine Corps exercise that is typically performed with partner countries throughout the Pacific Rim.
Sloane said, “The Air Force exercise — Pacific Iron — will be out here operating as well.”
Additionally, Pacific Griffin 2021 began on June 22 and will end on July 27, which is an annual exercise of the U.S. Navy and the Republic of Singapore Navy, according to Joint Region Marianas at Naval Base Guam.
In April, four B-52H Stratofortress bombers arrived at Andersen from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., the latest in a rotation of bombers deployed to the base.
“We do joint exercises typically every other year,” Sloane said. “In this case we’re exercising joint capabilities,” but most of them are separate from other exercises he said. “When we bring our bombers in here, they will be primarily to support real world operations, or they’ll be here to support some of our other exercises like Pacific Iron, but we don’t have any currently on the ramp today.”
Towards the end of May, Andersen also began hosting Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16s and F-15s, which will be in Guam through most of June and during late July, Sloane said.
Training in Guam offers opportunities not available in Singapore, he said. “They exercise across the Pacific, and in this case they find a tremendous amount of synergy and opportunity training with us … We’ve got Navy assets that are flying with them as well.” The Singapore Air Force trains in in other U.S. locations.
Visiting personnel can be housed in island hotels.
The general said from an expeditionary perspective — as with the tent cities, it can be logical to put personnel on base. “Then there’s times when it just makes a lot more sense to house folks downtown to preserve some capability. The Singapore Air Force have primarily been staying downtown.”
Arriving personnel are held to Department of Defense and Indo-Pacific COVID-19 standards, Sloane said, wherever they are lodged. “They’re required to have some sort of restriction of movement when they come in, based off of where they’re coming from and their vaccine status.” Primarily, the Government of Guam’s status and standards rule, he said.
“Typically, right now the bulk of the military forces that come in here on large exercises can’t be 100% vaccinated. The bulk of the ones that are coming in here are probably somewhere in the 60% to 70% range vaccinated.”
As to whether personnel are being given liberty to enjoy Guam’s offerings, Sloane says it depends. “We’ve got different rules in place. If you’re vaccinated, you can get downtown and start injecting into the local economy.” From his perspective, the ability to go-off base can be a positive also. “It really drives less resources that we have to gear to keep groups together and allow to operate with more flexibility and in smaller units, smaller groups,” he said. Larger groups may be treated as a whole due to the difficulty of assessing who is vaccinated and who is not, Sloane said. “That’s why a lot of the Army folks are staying here on base. But you can expect that there will be a significant number integrating into the downtown operations, should their command and control team let them,” he said, underscoring that personnel “are here to get exercises done and accomplish the objectives of Forager.”
Andersen will also play a role as U.S. Marine Corps personnel move to Guam from Japan. “For the past few years, but especially now and in the next five years, I think we’re at a pivotal time in deciding what this base should look like, the infrastructure that we need to make sure that we can support a variety of joint and coalition operations out here on the island. That includes new hangars that are being built and will continue to need to be built,” Sloane said.
While COVID limited interaction and community service in the villages, Air Force personnel have recently donated to the Alee Shelter and participated in relief food distribution in Yona.
Sloane said after a few months in Guam, “I realized that I took command during times of COVID and I hadn’t met the key influencers in the region.” Normally that would have happened at events, or a change of command. “You develop a relationship, and you’d figure out what touchpoints you needed with those.” While the island was in lockdown, he said, “We really reached out through Zoom and just tried to establish the potential for future visits.” Sloane said the importance of connecting was two-way between community leaders and his command team. The idea he said was to broaden connections. “How and where can we reach those influencers in their communities so that we’ve got quality military members in the right places in the community, helping educate — provide classroom instruction, providing Red Horse SeaBee capabilities so that new engineers on the island may have something to look at, because we do things just a little bit differently.” More importantly for airmen and their families, Sloane said is integration. “What can we do as we really start opening up, not to be tourists, but to be part of the fabric of the community, to be in those celebrations of the towns that we have Sister Squadrons, Sister Villages relationships with.” After three months on the island, Sloane said, “I just didn’t want to wait any longer.” Similarly, Sloane has episodically invited businesspeople to the base.
Liberation Day on July 21 is a date the base leadership is looking forward to across the island, he said, “Even if the events are a little smaller than they have been in the past.”
Andersen is also planning its part of the celebrations, Sloane said. “We’ve already got flyovers for the 4th and for Liberation Day.”
The timing is good he said. “Assuming nothing happens, we do have capabilities out here for the month of July.”
Chief Master Sgt. John E. Payne is aware of those relationships too. He is recently arrived from Yokota Air Base in Japan, where planes for the Christmas Drop are sent from.
As senior enlisted leader, his areas of responsibilities are multiple, and expand when it comes to visiting personnel. For the Singapore planes, he said their own maintenance people come also. However, he said, “We do have of our subject matter experts who can help. As far as logistics too, a lot of space is donated to them at certain times of need as well … .,” he said.
“What they get is to plug into a backbone of maintenance here,” Sloane said.
Payne said for the airmen, joint or bilateral missions are an opportunity to learn different procedures and share different ideas. “It opens up the perspective and the creativity” to see what works in different formats. “Seeing the different cultures that are embedded and being able to work together – it’s a huge win for our airmen across the board,” Payne said.
Relationships in the region include those with the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.
The general says teams have gone to Palau through “dynamic force employment” to Angaur and Koror. “We have been out there and across the theater in more significant ways than probably a lot of people realize during the pandemic.”
In addition, he said it’s good news that Palau will open further and additional teams, as well as military families can visit.
Sloane said the potential for a mutual relationship is there. “Runways, ramp space, fuels infrastructure, all of those things from a military standpoint — we would love to continue to talk to them.” In 2020, a U.S. civil-military engineer joint task force reconstructed and expanded the Angaur runway as part of the airfield improvement project.
While Sloane has not yet visited Palau, he said, “The one thing that I have done is an Operation Christmas Drop right through Palau.” That included Angaur, he said. “I’ve seen that capability, that runway — that island from the air and the folks .. getting ready to get some Operation Christmas Drop.”
In 2020, the planes did not airdrop in the Federated States of Micronesia, due to FSM COVID restrictions. Sloane said this year, “The plan is to go back in mass, in force with anybody that’s willing to be open enough to accept the gifts.
“The primary bulk of that airlift comes from the 374th [Airlift Wing] out of Yokota. The [Japan Air Self-Defense Force] and the Royal Australian Air Force are both very interested in increasing their support. Last year we did have one Japanese C-130 in support of the operations as well.”
While Sloane was not in Guam when the Operation Christmas Drop movie was filmed at Andersen and in Guam, he said, “I love telling my friends and family or anybody who that comes in that’s new, ‘Have your friends and family watch this, because you’re going to see some really beautiful shots of the island. That’s your island; those are your beaches.’” While he recognized the artistic license taken in the movie, the general said, “The base is a lot the same.”
Construction on Andersen is proceeding apace on assets such as the hangars, and upgrades to fuel capabilities. That construction also includes new housing.
“We’ve got about two thirds of our population that live off base. The United States Air Force uses Andersen operationally as a place to live, work and fight from,” Sloane said.
“We are bringing in somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 full-time Marines and 5,000 that will be in here living at different times that are training.” Aside from accommodation facilities at Camp Blaz for personnel in training, Sloane said, “Some of their folks will be out here, especially the ones that need to be close to flying operations that will be done on our North Ramp.” Some Marines will be off base, he said as other personnel are.
Various commands are stationed at Andersen aside from Air Force personnel, to include the Space Force, Army, Navy and Marines. “Our Marine presence is only going to increase and the National Guard as well.”
Sloane said that defense funding may become an issue.
“There’s the pandemic relief efforts that are really costing the government a lot of money. That’s going to hit military budgets in significant ways. … I think every military leader and planner should be assuming that there are going to be significant cuts and it’s just going to be hard to figure out exactly what we’re going to prioritize now.”
The pandemic has wider ramifications, Sloane said. He compared the existential threat of the cold war (from the post-World War II years to the dissolution of the Soviet Union) to the era of the American presence in the Middle East to the current COVID era.
“I think that the pandemic is the most fundamental shift … and how an American sees their way of life that we’ve had in decades. The changes that that’s caused — some good, some bad — as we enter re-negotiations with new contracts and new ways forward are going to be done from a slightly different lens.”
The logistics of military travel, military movement and military construction in pandemic times will have an effect, he said.
“Even as we open up, there’s new ways that we’re looking at doing business where we’re a little bit more virtual now. I think we’re probably in a period here of transition to see how we’re going to process some of these new programs and the way we’re moving forward with existing ones.”
Sloane took command on July 8 last year.
He has held a variety of F-16 flying assignments in his career, but one stands out, he said.
“I had the opportunity when I was a young pilot to fly F-16s in combat in an allied force. That was certainly a highlight for me, because it’s exactly what we trained for, against the threat that we trained for in a very high-pressure situation. To realize that I was going to see the best out of the Air Force team, the joint team and the coalition team and that we could do something that had never been done before on a moment’s notice and do it very well was extremely rewarding.”
While he left operations after that, he said, “I hadn’t spent any time in the Pacific theater. If you had asked me 15 years ago, would I be sitting here today, I would have said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
A string of events came together that led to the command of Andersen, he said. “I went to the War College as a student and started talking about some of the emerging threats that were out there.” Those threats included the People’s Republic of China. Sloane also had the chance to travel the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, while talking about the ASEAN countries.
Sloane graduated from the Air War College in 2011 with a master’s in strategic studies and was assigned to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon to work in Joint Operations Pacific, and “started integrating into this thing … called the ‘Pivot to the Pacific.’”
As vice commander of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., he said, “I had the opportunity to see F-16s from Taiwan and from Singapore train and got to go visit those countries.” The general was then appointed commander of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base in Korea. “All of a sudden my career really started taking on a Pacific Air Force’s Indo-Pacific type of a flavor.”
Before coming to Guam, Sloane was the commandant of the Air War College. While he was involved in developing future leadership, discussions also focused on the 2018 defense strategy, which led to discussions that included the re-emergence of great power competition, the growing threat of China, and how the Air Force would be involved in that in the Pacific region.
“The Indo-PACOM — the Pacific became the most important region in any of our discussions and at the heart and center of that was this place called Guam.”
After that assignment, came the appointment to Andersen.
But if there was an omen of where Sloane’s career path would take him, it may have earlier. “In 2004, the year before I joined the Thunderbirds — I was selected for the team. I was a current qualified F-16 pilot and they needed an extra pilot to help them with a Pacific tour to fly jets to and from places. My first trip to Guam was flying a Thunderbird in here.”
Payne was drawn to the Air Force, for specific reasons, he said.
“I just love leading airmen and taking airmen and the great opportunities. When leadership entrusts you with all the responsibilities, it says a lot,” Payne said. While he welcomes the pressure his appointment carries, he also said, “I’m a big teacher, “I love being able to teach. In this day and age, we have a lot of young airmen with families and its important to try and provide perspective and teach. With teaching comes accountability and discipline and all those different things we sometimes struggle with as a society,” Payne said.
The Air Force invests heavily in the region, Sloane said, and will continue to do so. “For me and for chief, it’s just a tremendous opportunity.” Needs and opportunities are different in the region and require new solutions, he said.
“Fundamentally, we’ve got an opportunity to take out what has been our Achilles heel in the region, which has been operating in a very austere and hard-to-supply environment and to find new ways that mitigate those challenges. Our airmen are going to be the first ones figuring out exactly how to do that.” mbj