Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Guam to Save the Day Again with Military Buildup

Military Build-Up: Guam to Save the Day Again
By Mia Concepcion Triton’s Call, Volume 31, Issue 02

Driving around the island, one can see some big changes happening. New restaurants, businesses, and housing complexes are carving their way through Guam’s natural landscapes.

Multiple roads are currently going through extensive reconstruction to prepare for the military buildup, the transfer of 8000 U.S. Marines and their 9000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam.

According to Governor Felix Camacho in his address to the U.S. Senate Committee and Energy Resources, the Marines will start departing their old base in Okinawa in 2012 and the relocation will be complete by 2014. With such a close deadline for the Marines’ arrival, Guam is working overtime to be prepared.

Both the Japanese and the United States government are spending billions of dollars, 15 billion to be exact, to help Guam prepare for this nearly 25 percent increase in population.

Japan is agreeing to foot some of the bill to ensure a speedy relocation due to social problems between Okinawans and the Marines.

Great amount of publicity given to rapes done by U.S. Marines. According to the Japan Press Weekly, the number of sex offenses in the military forces is 22 times the amount occurring in Japan. Okinawan political activists were strong in voice and were adamant about the ridding of the Marines, one even travelling to Guam to speak of the military presence and the ills that come along with it.

Some newspapers, on the other hand, have criticized some of Okinawa’s media, saying that things were blown out of proportion in order to serve a special need. According to Stars and Stripes, the number of offences committed by the Marines is merely a fraction of the number of offences committed by locals.

Either way, there has been an obvious apprehension on both sides and the relocation seemed the best choice to get rid of it. This is where Guam comes in, to save the day in the same way the buildup will save Guam’s day, financially.

With the recession of multiple economies, these are not the brightest days of our island. The Japanese economy hasn’t been in its best shape either, which has a direct and serious effect on the island.

Guam, an island heavily relying on the money pulled in from Japanese tourists, is also feeling the tightening of the belt. The number of flights from Japan is steadily going downhill, thus the number of tourists and there is nothing else for our economy to rely on.

With such desperation regarding money on island, many people are really looking to this Marine buildup as an economic savior who couldn’t have come at a better time. The government of Guam seems to be stuck in a financial whirlpool, never quite getting out and the more people involved only results in a bigger debt, a bigger hunger.

Students of the University of Guam are in a unique position and have an invaluable perspective on this change on island. We can benefit enormously from this buildup and increase in population and military presence. We are embarking on our careers and it could not be a better time for us to do so.

With so many businesses and agencies coming to support the buildup, we have endless professional choices.

Older generations seem to be in consensus that this buildup will be a good thing. They have been on Guam long enough to see her during the good times: when politicians were trustworthy, when the government wasn’t in debt and when schools were actually safe havens for children.

Needless to say, things aren’t the same. Being able to gauge how good things were with money, it is easier for them to welcome this military expansion with open arms.

Maybe it’s a feasible way for them to return Guam to her good old days. Maybe they don’t want to see the social problems that might arise with the increased Marine presence on the island. Maybe it’s not going to be that big of a deal.

But denying that there will be social changes is a huge mistake. Any area that experiences a large population increase will, without a doubt, face a little tension, especially when there are differences in culture if transition is not done properly.

As young adults living on a small island with an already prominent military community, we see first-hand what these tensions can lead to. We see animosity rooted in cultural misunderstandings and what comes out of it: harsh words being exchanged, violence and worst, the passing of this animosity onto future generations.

We see numerous fights involving two different ethnicities, always on opposite sides and rarely mixing. We also hear the hatred and anger from certain elders about those “guys”.

I remember specifically waiting outside the Globe for a friend to come out. As I sat outside, I noticed that there was a military guy laid out on the ground. He was unconscious and wasn’t receiving help from anyone except for his lone friend, holding up his head. I thought he had blacked out from drinking but upon speculation, I learned that two local guys had attacked him. I insisted that some guys help him out, but they only replied with a cold “That’s what they deserve”.

It wasn’t a “That’s what he deserves” but a general statement about a large amount of people. I’m not saying that this misunderstanding is only on one side but it’s a multi-faceted thing. Tons of military guys, probably missing home and still getting used to Guam, tend to speak badly of the island. We have heard multiple times that they can’t wait to get off this rock.

With Chamorros being a proud people, it’s easy to understand how upset one can get when hearing such talk. Young men tend to be protective of their homeland, no matter where it may be, and will get violent in order to get their point across. We’ve heard countless stories, from both sides, about how things aren’t as pleasant as one would hope in regards to the relations between the locals and the military. We have heard about how the Chamorro people can be extremely hospitable or can be mean-spirited. We have also heard that members of the military are the most interesting people or the most obnoxious.

Either way, we need to open our eyes and our minds. As of right now, the buildup seems like a mere blueprint. Sure, we see new roads being constructed and new buildings going up left and right but are we ready for this? We can have numerous shopping malls and restaurants but what we need to prepare ourselves for are the cultural and social changes we are going to see in our community.

We, as a whole, could look forward to sharing our majestic island with others. We can teach others the joys of our culture instead of chastising those who don’t understand it.

That being said, we can also learn from other cultures to become better citizens of the world. We live in a wonderful place and we’re blessed to call Guam our home. It’s only right that we represent her the proper way; with respect and understanding, no matter who you are.

We could look at this buildup with fear, excitement or utter confusion but the number one thing to do is to keep open our minds and our hearts. We, as students of the University of Guam, are the island’s future leaders and we need to be the ones to show the way.

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