I recently came across a PBS video concerning the US military’s pending move of forces stationed in Japan to Guam. Called “The Marines Are Landing”, it’s a little over 20 minutes long and I think treats the subject fairly evenly.
To briefly explain the situation facing Guam, in 2005 the US and Japan came to an agreement to, among other things, relocate about half of the US Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam. Certainly strategic issues and force positioning in the Western Pacific for the US were the primary driver for the decision to move the troops, but it’s quite certain that part of the reason for moving the Marines in particular has to be the friction that has existed between the local Okinawan citizens and the Marines for a long time, especially since 1995 onward (in 1995, two Marines and a US Navy Sailor kidnapped and raped an Okinawan girl). This incident and its aftermath are highlighted in the video.
Guam is now faced with a conundrum: they expect to have the population of their island increased by something like 40% (it is currently less that 200,000) within the next 10 years due to the realignment of US military forces to their island, but their infrastructure is already at the breaking point. Where the money to pay for required upgrades and improvements and upgrades will come from still seems to be unclear – everyone interviewed in the video seemed to have a different answer, with one common theme – not me / my department.
This video is part of PBS’s “NOW” series of broadcasts dealing with various and sundry current events issues in a “news magazine” style, sort of like “Frontline“‘s little brother. “The Marines Are Landing” originally aired earlier this month.
The move of US forces to Guam is a timely issue due to US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan last month (which has now resulted in the new Japanese government waffling about the very basics of the plan itself) and the fact that much of the infrastructure construction that necessarily must precede the actual repositioning of troops and their families is slated to get underway in early 2010.
I find the Guam issue interesting for a couple reasons:
1. The repositioning of a significant portion of the US military’s Japan-based capability to Guam makes a difference in how those forces can be employed, response / employment timelines change, and so forth, altering the strategic balance of the region.
2. A couple of years ago I worked at the largest US Marine Corps headquarters in the Pacific (in Hawaii) and I saw first-hand how much of the daily “battle rhythm” was spent on Guam issues. This is a huge deal for the US military, and especially for the Marines. I am quite interested to see what the Guam buildup will end up looking like – will it bear any resemblance to the extensive plans laid down a few years ago?
Watch the video here:
A couple of other recent Guam buildup-related resources:
– Government Accountability Office report GAO-10-90R (13 November 2009): Defense Infrastructure: Guam Needs Timely Information from DOD to Meet Challenges in Planning and Financing Off-Base Projects and Programs to Support a Larger Military Presence
– Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS) for Guam and the CNMI Military Relocation – the draft EIS was released on 17 November 2009 and is now available for public comment. It looks like the US government is planning on holding some public hearings next month on Guam and neighboring islands Saipan and Tinian (Saipan and Tinian are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI]). If I were a betting man, I would wager that these public hearings are going to be packed-house, “less than relaxed” affairs – from what I have seen, the people of Guam and its neighboring islands are passionate about the subject and mean to be taken seriously in their concerns about the military buildup.