Tuesday, September 15, 2009

DoD office to push local issues on buildup

By Dionesis Tamondong • Pacific Daily News • September 16, 2009

Guam deserves a lot more attention in Washington, D.C., as the military buildup here prepares to get under way, said a visiting Department of Defense official.

And Derek Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, said it's his office's job to push policies that will improve the island's position as thousands of military personnel are transferred to Guam and military facilities are constructed and expanded.

"We will likely be one of the leaders in the interagency in Washington to make sure that Guam is taken care of appropriately, so that we can do what we need to do ... and that Guam itself can get benefits from it," Mitchell said during a press conference yesterday.

Mitchell met with military and local officials over the past two days to learn more about buildup issues. This is his first visit to Guam, and it takes place three weeks after Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus' trip here.

He said the planned buildup is on track and added, "we are firmly committed to the 2014 deadline" to relocate 8,000 U.S. Marines and their 9,000 dependents to Guam. Military-related construction is set to begin next year.

Sen. Judith Guthertz and other senators met with Mitchell over lunch yesterday.

Guthertz, chairwoman of the Legislature's Committee on the Military Buildup, presented him with a letter asking for a commitment from the federal government to help prepare Guam's civilian community for the buildup.

"To put it bluntly, for the Guam military buildup to be successful, it must be a 'win-win' program for both the military and civilian communities," Guthertz stated in her letter.

Mitchell acknowledged several hurdles that could delay the buildup.

An amendment by Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie to the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act could drastically increase buildup-related construction wages and limit the number of foreign workers who could take part in the buildup projects.

Mitchell also said the Defense Department is closely watching the transition of Japan's new government and how that might affect the agreement between the two countries over the Marines' relocation.

But he said his main goal is to push Guam's agenda and promote its strategic importance to those in the nation's capital.

"We'll be asking a lot of Guam and Guam should expect a lot of its government, too, in Washington," he said.

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