BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
While the islands may be strategic, their importance for training is obvious, underscored by the upcoming ongoing rotation of U.S. Marines for training when U.S. Marine Camp Blaz is completed.
Guam is accustomed to rotational presences and visiting forces for air, land and sea exercises of all kinds. Plus, rarely does a week go by without open ocean exercises in the waters of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, or bombing sorties to Farallon de Medinilla island in the NMI.
Regional geopolitical tensions and the U.S. military’s strategic approach have also increasingly made a show of strength part of the picture.
This year the multiple deployments taking place in and around the region are continuous from June through September and involve multiple forces and multiple groups of U.S. personnel that take the personnel numbers and hardware involved in exercises to impressive heights. See, The base is the place: Andersen’s roles come to the fore — Marianas Business Journal (mbjguam.com)
Military leaders who met with media in Guam began by thanking the administration as well as residents.
Adm. Michael M. Gilday, U.S. chief of Naval operations, was in Guam on July 30, after attending the International Maritime Security Conference in Singapore, and met with local media on July 30.
He thanked Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero for allowing the COVID-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt to come into port in March 2020, “with no strings attached.”
Guam is a strategic hub for the U.S. Navy, Gilday said. “It’s the best deep water that we have between Hawaii and Manila, and we don’t take it for granted. You see all of the services of the United States military that have a footprint on this island. I think that’s indicative of how we all view the strategic importance. … What makes that more meaningful is the partnership we have with the people of Guam,” he said.
Budget talks have put Guam’s receipt of the Aegis missile system at risk, as Gilday recognized, but he is optimistic. He told the Journal that although missile defense is a “hot topic” within Congress, “I think there’s a lot of effort – based on the commander of Indo-Pacific’s assessment of what he believes he needs to defend the island. There’s a great amount of momentum right now to complete an assessment and to properly resource it, but we’re in the early stages of that and I think it will take some time before all of those pieces fall into place, but I think the momentum and the drive is heading in the right direction.”
Large Scale Exercise 2021 is due to begin. The massive exercise that starts in early August will span 17 time zones and include sailors and Marines in the Pacific, the U.S., Africa and Europe. Gilday said forces in Guam are a part of that.
“We’re trying to do that in an integrated fashion with other services as well, including the Marine Corps and the Air Force,” he said.
“Those exercises and those partnerships are going on all the time,” Gilday said, referring to nations in the Indo-Pacific. By way of example, he mentioned Pacific Griffin – a bilateral exercise with the Singapore Navy in the waters off Guam, which took place from June 22 to July 7. Participants were hosted at Andersen Air Force Base, according to Journal files. “Our day-to-day operations include the Australians, the Japanese, the South Koreans and many other South- East Asian nations, that we continue to work hand in glove with to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.
Federal employees to include military personnel are shortly expected to be required to confirm COVID vaccination or be vaccinated. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which include Gilday are expected to recommend to the U.S. Secretary of Defense on the decision by President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to require that.
Gilday did not specifically share his opinion in relation to the issue of vaccination, but did say, “My priority – first and foremost is to ensure the safety of our civilian personnel. With that as the objective I will look to base my recommendations to the Secretary of Defense on science and on facts. I’m not at the point yet where we’ve weighed out all the pros and cons,” Gilday said. “I want to make sure it’s not a knee-jerk recommendation from me, but a very thoughtful one …,” he said.
Afghan refugees are unlikely to come to Guam, Gilday said. “I haven’t heard any serious talk about Guam as an option that’s going to be executed.”
On Aug. 1, Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific and Lt. General Jon Thomas, deputy commander of the Pacific Air Force met virtually with media.
Both thanked Leon Guerrero, Tenorio and the people of Guam for their support of the joint force exercises, and both referred to the commitment to defend Guam – in various words. Thomas also thanked the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam where planes have been practicing landings and recognized the inclusion of Tinian and Saipan as exercise locations.
The exercises are through various domains, both physical and multi-force as well as multi-capabilities. U.S. forces will not only exercise at sea, and in the Marianas, but at Angaur in Palau, where the U.S. Army renovated a runway in September.
Army forces for Forager 21 – which takes place from July 11 to Aug. 6 are being hosted in four tents in Guam, two of which are at Andersen. Local companies have supplied U.S. forces with food and beverage support for the exercises. The two also spoke on R&R opportunities for visiting personnel.
Flynn said, “I have not heard any complaints or any challenges that we’ve had with supply chains, or with the ability to support logistically the operations that we’re doing in austere locations at remote sites. I do believe each of the local commanders are taking a chance for our soldiers and some of our civilian work force to make sure that they get a chance to see the beauty of the various islands, and the people that are residents of the locations.
Thomas said, “My understanding here at Andersen Air Force Base is really that all of the available resources that we’ve typically used, they’re actually kind of maxed out. The size and scale of the things that we’re doing has created a lot of opportunities for interaction with local supply and sustainment sources.” In addition, he said, “We’ve actually been able to do some innovative things on fuel supply up there. We worked out with some local contractors there to develop a mechanism to move fuel from one island to another … .” Thomas said that would ensure the Air Force could augment with key items – aviation fuel being one of them.” He said time permitting, personnel have been able to get out to beaches and other locations.”
Flynn, who will visit Palau and meet with local and Army leadership, said, “I think there’s been some really great lessons we’re learning in the contractual support in each of these areas as we distribute and disperse the force across the region. I think that’s a very helpful thing to take away and learn from all these operations that we’re doing.”
President Surangel S. Whipps spoke with the Journal on Aug. 1, prior to his departure for Washington, D.C.
Gen. S. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces was in Palau on July 28. The two leaders met and Whipps said, “We just talked about our continuing partnership.” The president said those discussions included “strengthening our relations.”
Wilsbach earlier stressed to the Journal the importance of islands in Micronesia. See, Flying high: Pacific Air Force commander talks Guam, NMI, Palau and strategy and security — Marianas Business Journal (mbjguam.com)
Not for the first time, Whipps told the Journal from his perspective the U.S. presence in Palau is not only strategic, but strengthens the economy and could continue to do so in the future.
“Hawaii, Guam and Palau – we need to look at the homeland and keep us safe,” he said. Whipps would welcome more activities and exercises, he said, linking economic prosperity to strategic security. “More presence means more jobs and opportunities,” he said. While the Compact of Free Association governs security for Palau and a strategic presence for the U.S., Whipps said, “We also need to bolster our economic security.”
Radar capabilities are not only established in Palau, but are continuing to be sited in the country. See, All systems go: Radar in Palau moves ahead — Marianas Business Journal (mbjguam.com)
“They’re ongoing,” Whipps told the paper, adding that those endeavors also contribute to the economy.
Thomas said, “The increasing pace and scale of the exercising we’ve been doing down there is ample evidence that the Palau government is very welcoming and there are great opportunities there.”
Of his trip to the U.S. capital, he said, “I will be in Washington making some courtesy calls.” The president will stop in Hawaii for meetings and will be away for a week, he said. mbj