GUAM – Leaders of Guam’s business community traveled to Washington recently to update their understanding of the nation’s political will, military strategy and financial commitment for the military buildup, meeting with key leaders at the Department of Defense, State Department, Senate and House of Representatives.

A six-member delegation from the Armed Forces Committee of the Guam Chamber of Commerce traveled to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon June 21-24, the thirteenth such annual trip for the Chamber. Delegation member Gerald Perez briefed the Chamber’s general membership on the results of the trip at a July 27 meeting in Tumon.

In a year when nerves have been particularly tender around the island’s military buildup, the business leaders were on a mission to both check the pulse of power brokers in Washington and reassure them that Guam stands behind the Marines and the buildup.

Along with its own white paper outlining Guam’s strategic importance as sovereign soil for the U.S. in Asia, and message points alerting national leaders to China’s steady projection of economic, social and political influence in Micronesia, the delegation also presented a recent opinion poll showing clear support for the buildup among Guam residents.

“Was that [survey] ever valuable when we got to Washington,” said Carl Peterson, a delegation member who also serves on the board of Para Hita Todu, the community development organization that commissioned the public opinion study.

The survey, completed days before the meetings in Washington, showed that 60 percent of residents support the buildup, with only 16 percent opposed.

The results gave voice to mainstream public sentiment that has been overpowered in the media by more vocal, organized opponents of the buildup. According to Mr. Perez, the survey had an effect on the Navy’s top man overseeing the buildup at the Pentagon, Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work.

“Secretary Work was initially negative on the social and political environment in Guam, but more relieved after our meeting [where we] shared the community survey,” Mr. Perez said.

Complex and massive as it is, the plan to realign 30,000 U.S. military troops across the Asia-Pacific region — including the intertwined transfer of 8,600 Marines to Guam and the building of a new air base on Okinawa – has in the last year been hit by political turmoil in Tokyo, deficit woes in Washington, anti-military voices in both islands and even the March 11 triple disaster in Japan.

The buildup has been an easy target for politicians at all levels – deficit hawks and fiscal conservatives in Washington, opportunists looking to weaken the ruling power in Tokyo, and politicians in Guam and Okinawa roused to protect local interests.

The delegation, which also included Guam businessmen Jim Adkins, Joe Arnett, Paul Blas and Lee Webber, sought to understand the upshot of a year of political turbulence.

“We found general agreement [in Washington] that the Guam expansion and buildup [remains] central to the U.S. realignment strategy in Asia,” Mr. Perez said.

He described an environment where lawmakers, Defense and State policy makers and the military are in agreement with the strategic importance of the realignment and the benefit of moving the Marines to Guam, but also are sensitive to reining in federal spending and the national debt.

The price of the Marine realignment to Guam has been revised upwards to over $17.4 billion from an original estimate of $10.3 billion in 2006 and the Senate has called for the Department of Defense to review Kadena Air Base as a cost-saving alternative to building the planned Marine air base on Okinawa’s northeastern coast.

While the Senate cuts are concerning, the delegation drew confidence from their Washington meetings, including one with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye who reassured them that “the Roadmap is the U.S. Government position,” referring to the U.S.-Japan security agreement that set plans for the Marine transfer to Guam in motion.

The House version of the defense appropriations bill supports the original Realignment Roadmap, keeping intact DoD-requested funding levels for Guam construction that would allow site preparation and utilities work at the new Marine base in Finegayan to commence in fiscal year 2012.

Mr. Perez stopped short of predicting how much money would be approved in the final House-Senate compromise bill. However, he said, the Senate budget represents a “bump in the road to the funding schedule,” and “we believe this will be resolved after DoD shares its master plan with Congress and satisfies unanswered questions.”

During Pentagon meetings that included talks with the Marine Corps’s top policy officials — Lt. General Richard Tyron, deputy commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations and PPO Pacific Division director Bryan Wood — the delegation confirmed that a master plan for the Guam buildup has been completed.

The Marines and U.S. Pacific Command remain “committed to making plans work” because they make “strategic and operational sense,” Mr. Perez said.

The Defense Department and military remain focused on an increasingly uncertain security environment in Asia-Pacific, providing a counterpoint to the political conversation. The U.S., Japan and other regional partners continue to eye with great concern China’s military rise, the latest provocations of a nuclear-capable North Korea and other evolving threats in outer space, the high seas and cyberspace.

Mr. Peterson drew a distinction between considerations of strategy and budget.

“The whole bottom line in this realignment is to try to prevent future bloodshed,” Mr. Peterson said. “This we have to do. This is a strategic realignment — not savings and operations or whether we should build a new weapon.”

 

For queries regarding this or other stories, email the editor at sharla@guambuildupnews.com.