On Guam, military’s roots run deep
Story and photos by Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, January 23, 2010
BARRIGADA, Guam — At a deployment ceremony at Guam’s National Guard headquarters last week, Maj. Gen. Donald Goldhorn gave out his personal cell phone number.
It’s the 27th time he’s done that for the families of the island’s Air and Army National Guard members. And it marked the 27th time a unit has deployed from the island since 2003.
About 1,500 members have deployed at least once to either Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Djibouti or the Philippines, about the same number as total membership in the Guard.
"It has consumed us, quite frankly," said Goldhorn, the Guard’s adjutant general.
The military, in many ways, also consumes Guam.
Already the Air Force and Navy occupy about a third of the 212-square-mile island. The Pentagon wants to add at least 9,182 more troops — including at least 8,000 Marines from Okinawa — more than doubling the current military population of 6,800.
But the island’s relationship with the military runs much deeper. Of the 178,000 residents, more than 10,000 are currently in uniform, according to a report released last week by the island’s Chamber of Commerce.
Another 12,000 veterans live on the island, according to Carl Peterson, a veteran who chairs the chamber’s military affairs committee.
Some members of the Guam guard’s Matua Platoon — officially the 4th Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion of the 294th Infantry — said Jan. 13 that they’ve been too busy to attend recent public hearings on the buildup.
Instead, they were preparing for a six-month deployment to the southern Philippines to work with Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, which is training the local military and advising it in its fight against al-Qaida-linked terror groups. Two U.S. soldiers were killed there in September from a roadside bomb laid by a group linked to al-Qaida.
Army 2nd Lt. Olin Yaopoqa, the platoon’s leader, said the buildup could bring "a whole spider web of work here." He also noted it could come at a cost.
Guam is less than nine miles wide and a little more than 30 miles long, and "there will be tension, frictions," he said. "There is only so much room to go around."
On Jan. 12, Guam Legislature Speaker Judi WonPat helped hand out USO care packages to the platoon.
Later that night, WonPat spoke at a public hearing in support of "We Are Guahan," a local coalition fighting against the military’s expansion plans. "This military buildup is another example [of Guam] being taken for granted," she said at the hearing.
At the Jan. 12 deployment ceremony, Pete Alvarez sat beside his son, Spc. Peter Alvarez. The senior Alvarez has a daughter serving in Afghanistan.
Alvarez says he’s followed news of the military’s proposed buildup on Guam, but he hasn’t attended the public meetings.
"It’s good for the economy," he said, but he worries about fights among the incoming troops and young men on the island.
For now, "I’m more worried about my kids," the Vietnam veteran said. "Right now, they are more of my priority."
About 200 Guam guard members are deployed around the world, including a squadron with the Guam Air National Guard currently in Baghdad, according to Army Capt. Kenneth Ola, spokesman for the guard.
Staff Sgt. Carl Santos estimates he’s been gone nearly four of the seven years he’s been in the Guard. He said he likes being able to serve and to come home to his home in Dededo.
Santos said he’s followed the complaints about the buildup.
"They are entitled to their opinions," he said.
Yet Santos sees it more from a military vantage point.
"We’re such a strategic location," he said.
For some in Guam, the military’s ability to move in without asking for permission lies at the heart of their opposition to the move.
"We hate being possessions to the federal government," said Carmen Artero Kasperbauer, 74, whose family once owned land now part of Andersen Air Force Base. "That’s why people are angry."
Her anger, she said, is mostly toward leaders in Washington. Guam was originally won by the United States after the Spanish-American war. It remains a territory with a non-voting member of Congress. Registered voters on the island cannot vote for president.
"I’m not talking about the uniformed military. We love the uniformed military," she said, and began listing a family tree that includes her son, an Air Force pilot, her grandson and granddaughter, who are deployed, her brother, a retired submariner, and another brother who was wounded in Vietnam.
"Our son … helped liberate the Kuwaitis," she said. "But he can’t help liberate me."