Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Pacific Century

Military Growth Anticipated in Guam, Civilian Leaders Learn
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam, Sept. 18, 2004 -- With President Bush dubbing the 21st century "the Pacific century," Guam is expected to become increasingly important to U.S. military operations, officials here told visiting civilian leaders Sept. 17.

Both Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south anticipate big growth within the next several years, capitalizing on Guam's prime strategic location, its pro-military population, and its status as a U.S. territory.

Air Force Col. P.K. White, commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing here, told participants in the secretary of defense's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference all signs point to major growth for the U.S. military in Guam.

Strategically located more than 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, Andersen Air Force Base offers what White calls three major attractions: ramp space, green space and air space.

The base's 7.5 million square feet of ramp space provide "a lot of room to put a lot of airplanes to do a lot of things," he said.

In addition, White said, Andersen features extensive open space to support future growth. "There's a ton of room here to put a lot of new infrastructure," he said.

Air Force Col. Steve Wolborsky, vice commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing, said the Air Force anticipates investing $1 billion to $2 billion into Andersen Air Force Base within the next five to 10 years. This, he said, reflects recognition of Andersen as "the most significant U.S. Air Force base in the Pacific region for this century."

White said another one of Andersen's primary attractions is its access to airspace -- an access he said continues to shrink in the continental United States, Europe, Korea and Japan. "You need airspace to train the way you're going to fight," he said. "And you can find it here."

Already, Guam features a wide range of military assets, including the Air Force's largest fuel supply in the United States and its largest supply of weapons in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, Naval Base Guam, with its protected deep-water harbor, is building up its infrastructure, getting more homeported ships and increasing the training opportunities it is able to offer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Doug Lito told the group.

The base is home port to two submarines, with a third to be added in December, a submarine tender and two Coast Guard cutters. Another 15 ships are forward deployed to Guam, Lito said.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for increasing the U.S. military presence in Guam, Maj. Gen. Dennis Larson, commander of Andersen Air Force Base, told the group, is the fact that it offers a slice of America in one of the world's most strategic locations. This, he said, gives military planners and operators far more leeway in conducting operations than they typically find at overseas bases.

"It lets us deploy forces to here and employ forces from here with a lot fewer restrictions than in any other part of the world," said Wolborsky.

White invited participants in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference to return to Guam in a few years to see the changes ahead.

"It's been said that Andersen will be the key air force base for the 21st century, and I believe it," he said. "This region of the world is very important, and it's a critical time in the future of this base."

While visiting Guam during a weeklong trip through the Pacific to observe U.S. military operations, the civilian leaders witnessed some of the current operations taking place on the island.

They traveled to Naval Base Guam to watch Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 demonstrate its bomb-disposal techniques.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Spengler, an explosive ordnance technician based here, jumped from a helicopter into Apra Harbor, swam to a simulated mine floating in the harbor, and tagged it with an explosive charge. He then swam away from the "mine," grabbed the helicopter's rescue harness, and was lifted onto the aircraft.

Once the helicopter left the immediate area, Conoly Phillips, retired CEO of Conoly Phillips Lincoln Mercury in Norfolk, Va., was selected from the civilian group to detonate the device, creating a huge explosion in the harbor.

At Naval Base Guam, the group also saw a display of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3's equipment and an MH-60 Knight Hawk helicopter used by Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 5 to conduct search-and-rescue missions in the region.

Later, at Andersen Air Force Base, group members met the crew and climbed aboard one of six B-52H Stratofortress bombers deployed for a four-month rotation from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. White said B-52s from Barksdale and Minot Air Force Base, N.D., began regular deployments to Guam in February -- a significant step since the last permanently based B-52s left Guam in 1991.

Larson told the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference visitors the activities they observed today -- and plans for the future still on the drawing board -- will contribute to Guam's role in U.S. defense.

"Our primary job is to be ready for any crisis," he said. "If we do this right, we can continue to help provide security and maintain peace in this region."

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