BY MORGAN LEGEL
The Guam-based U.S. Coast Guard is not only getting an injection of much-needed capital improvement funds, but also now has a name that reflects the reality of its essential mission covering thousands of miles in the region.
Guam’s 307 active-duty Coast Guard personnel — spread between three fast-response cutters and one buoy tender — will soon be able to take advantage of changes being made at the Naval Base Guam compound.
The Coast Guard force has a search and rescue area of 1.9 million miles, which is “essentially the side of the United States,” according to Capt. Nicholas R. Simmons, its commander.
The area of responsibility reaches northward towards Japan, over to the east and west from Honolulu to the Philippines, and down to the Federated States of Micronesia in the south.
“It’s a huge area, and we have relatively few assets to complete a mission,” he said.
Simmons — who took command in June — told the Journal two large capital improvement projects are underway: a cutter center designed as a secondary location for the officers on Guam’s fast-response cutters; and a reconfiguration to the current command center, to allow for more use by more personnel, at a cost of more than $424,000.
The cutter center is aptly named the Cmdr. Skinner Building after Gov. Carlton Skinner, who was not only Guam’s first civilian governor, but also served as a Coast Guard officer in World War II. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia and Sector Guam was renamed from Coast Guard Sector Guam in July.
“Along with the contract with the three new FRCs that came out here, we were provided procurement funding to construct a new building for them,” he said. The three cutters – the USCGC Oliver Henry, the USCGC Myrtle Hazard and the USCGC Frederik Hatch added about 70 personnel plus their family members to the Coast Guard and brought the latest technology along with them, at an investment of about $123 million for the three cutters.
(See “Island to see new Coast Guard ships before the end of 2020,” in the May 11, 2020, issue of the Journal and “Home for the holidays: Second CG cutter set for Guam; third in training,” in the Nov 2, 2020, issue of the Journal.)
The new two-floor building, for which the Coast Guard broke ground in July 2019, is planned to be finished in April or May 2022. When completed, the building will occupy more than 11,000 square feet. The new building is being constructed by Gilbane Building Co.
“The building is going to house office space for the cutter crews,” he said. “One of the big things is that the cutter crews don’t have any space off the ship, so the officers are doing all of their day-to-day business from their rooms and computers on the ship. This will provide them a space to get away from the cutter and be able to be in the same space as other officers.”
The Skinner Building will also act as a surge location for off-island personnel who come for support and various missions. These support teams are housed in containers within the compound when they visit, as of now.
“We’re making do, as you would with any ship,” Simmons said. “Containers are better than nothing, but there’s only so far you can go with a 40-foot container. The new building will provide a lot of continuity.”
The other “ongoing” project, the command center reconfiguration, is still in the conceptualization phase.
“The bottom line is we’ve grown the number of assigned personnel here to do command center operations, and people need to work in a secure space,” the captain said. “The current center was constructed in the mid-80s, and we’re moving towards reconfiguring that space.”
When finished, the command center will also have a larger footprint of roughly 300 square feet, which Simmons estimates to be a 25% increase from the current space.
One problem with the current command center is that a lot of personnel are sharing desks and work areas, and those who require classified material for their job do not have the access they need.
It is important to note that the compound is separated, with cypher locks on the outside of each office, facing outdoors, rather than conjoined inside a building.
Additionally, the renovation will include a bunk room for those on duty and/or watch.
“Part of my vision is to have that bunk room inside the command center, so they’re not separated and it’s more efficient and simpler,” Simmons said.
While this is the short-term solution for a better working relationship between personnel, Simmons, who took the helm of the command within the last few months, believes there are other needs to be met in the future.
“We’re looking long-term at doing something different with the entire footprint of the compound,” he said. “A consolidated sector building without it all being separate.”
Coast Guard Forces Micronesia also fosters liaison relationships with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the FSM. The Coast Guard typically performs high seas fisheries boardings in the Pacific and Micronesia, to determine and apprehend vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (or IUU) fishing.
“The only external footprint we have is up in Saipan, where we have a Marine Safety Detachment, with a Coast Guard Lieutenant and five or six guys out there,” Simmons said. “They primarily do vessel inspections.” mbj