Pace Visits Guam to Assess Infrastructure Growth Plans
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2006 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got a firsthand look today at growth under way here that's about to move into high gear as Guam prepares to welcome 8,000 Marines from Okinawa by 2014.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace visited Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam to learn more about expansion plans and assess Guam's readiness to absorb the Marines and an estimated 9,000 family members.
Pace called the decision, part of a broader Alliance Transformation Realignment agreement between the United States and Japan, a "win-win" situation for everyone involved. "It allows us to lesson our footprint in Japan and take advantage of the opportunities Guam presents us," he told military reporters during his visit.
Guam, a U.S. territory more than 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, offers a prime strategic location with ready access to potential hot spots throughout the Pacific as well as to U.S. allies, Pace noted. It's two to three hours by air and two days by ship from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia and other key western Pacific locations.
"If you start drawing circles from Guam, you can see how strategic it is in the region," the chairman said. This forward location cuts down on the time required to respond to a crisis or contingency in the region and makes Guam perfectly situated for the global war on terror, he said.
"Guam is historically thought of as a logistics hub and support base, but we're also operationally engaged in the global war on terror," Rear Adm. Charles "Joe" Leidig, commander of Naval Forces Marianas and the top-ranking military representative in Guam, told Pace. "We're on the tip of the spear."
Another compelling reason for increasing the U.S. military presence in Guam is its status as a U.S. territory, deep in the western Pacific, Leidig said. That gives military planners and operators far more leeway in conducting operations than they typically find at an overseas base.
"This is U.S. soil," said Navy Capt. Ken Branch, commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas. "The commander in chief doesn't have to ask anybody if he can fly from here or sail from here."
Leidig gave Pace an overview of the vast military capabilities already in Guam and plans that will dramatically increase them.
On the island's north side, Andersen Air Force Base offers ready access to air space - something quickly shrinking in the continental United States, Europe, Korea and Japan. At the same time, it features some 7.5 million square feet of ramp space and extensive open space to support future infrastructure growth, Leidig explained.
Guam also offers the Air Force's largest fuel supply in the United States, its largest supply of weapons in the Pacific and a valuable urban training area in an abandoned housing area at a site known as Andersen South.
Pace praised Andersen's "world-class facilities" that provide a platform for U.S. forces to surge where needed in the Pacific theater.
To the south, Naval Base Guam, with its protected deep-water harbor, is home port to two attack submarines, USS City of Corpus Christi and USS Houston, as well as the submarine tender USS Frank Cable. Another submarine, USS Buffalo, will join them next year, and ultimately, the base will increase its sub force to five, Leidig said.
Meanwhile, the base is building up its infrastructure, increasing inner Apra Harbor's capability to accommodate aircraft carriers, and expanding the training opportunities it's able to offer, he told Pace.
But much of Guam's potential remains yet to be tapped, Leidig said, including more than 800 acres of undeveloped land on Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Finegayan. That's where the incoming Marines are likely to be based, he said.
Leidig said he's excited about Guam's potential in capitalizing, not just on its strategic location, but also on its pro-military population and its status as a U.S. territory.
The biggest challenge in reaching that potential is ensuring Guam's infrastructure keeps pace with the need, the chairman said. Key to that is not just operating and training facilities, but also more and better barracks, family housing and quality-of-life facilities for troops and their families, he said.
The Marines alone will require an estimated 3,800 housing units and other facilities needed to support them, Leidig said.
During Pace's visit here, the admiral outlined details of the Joint Guam Military Master Plan that calls for $10 billion to $15 billion in infrastructure improvements in Guam over the next 15 years.
The plan, being fine-tuned for delivery next month to Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. Pacific Command, will usher in a construction boom that's expected to top $1 billion a year, Leidig explained. It's a level of growth unprecedented in Guam's history, dwarfing the previously unparalleled spurt that established Guam's bustling hotel district and its status as a regional tourist hub.
"There's a lot to be done on Guam," particularly on the Navy side, which has gone through a decade of underinvestment, said Branch, Leidig's regional engineer and a key player in the growth planning process.
The sooner the work begins, the better, he said, so facilities at Guam can continue to meet current mission requirements while preparing to double the military population in Guam. "The more we do yesterday, the better we'll be for the future," he said.
Some improvements to be proposed aren't on the military facilities themselves, but in the surrounding areas that ultimately affect their operations. Leidig cited as an example an expeditionary road that links military facilities and eliminates traffic jams on Guam's single north-south thoroughfare. "While we make improvements inside the fence line, it's important that we don't overlook the area outside the fence line," he told Pace.
Pace and Leidig agreed it's critical that Guam's military expansion progresses in an environmentally friendly way that affects Guam's civilian community as little as possible. "We need to be sensitive to the environment and our fellow citizens," Pace said.
Guam's citizens, with their history of Japanese occupation during World War II, have a unique understanding of the military's importance, Leidig said. "The people here are tremendously patriotic and have a true appreciation of the word 'freedom,'" he said.
As a result, Guamanians go out of their way to make servicemembers here feel welcomed, he said. "I know the Marines will love being here."
While keeping the local population's interest in the forefront, Pace said he wants to ensure that military members who serve in Guam have the best training environment and quality-of-life amenities possible.
As he toured Naval Base Guam by mini-bus, Pace jumped from his seat to pay an impromptu call on a formation of sailors gathered outside USS City of Corpus Christi. "I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you for what you do here," he told the assembled crewmembers.
"I know that you're a long way from home here, so I wanted to take a minute to thank you for your sacrifices and for what you do for this country," he said. "What you do here is really, really important."