Carter: Guam Central to Asia-Pacific Strategy
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 20, 2012 – Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said after his meetings with Guamanian and military leaders over the past two days, he is more convinced than ever that Guam has a central role to play in the strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
The deputy secretary left Guam today en route to Japan, the next stop on his 10-day Asia-Pacific tour that will continue with visits to Thailand, India and South Korea.
“The insights I was able to gather during this visit [to Guam] reinforce the department’s optimism that our plan is achievable and in line with our strategic priority of maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Carter said.
A senior defense official traveling with the deputy secretary told American Forces Press Service on background that during the Guam visit Carter wanted to convey to Guamanian leaders his optimism that the planned Marine Corps relocation from Okinawa “is in a much better place than it was even six months ago.”
The processes involved in implementing the plan, including coordination with the Japanese government and Congressional authorization, “all seem to be coming together,” the official said.
Carter discussed a number of issues with Guamanian leaders including Governor Eddie Baza Calvo and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo. During those meetings, the official said, Carter spoke about the steps involved in the planned Marine Corps buildup on Guam.
Current plans call for moving roughly 4,800 Marines to the island, rather than the 8,000 originally projected, the official noted. About two-thirds of those who relocate to Guam will do so on a rotational basis, which means a smaller permanent-party presence and thus a smaller number of accompanying family members than earlier planned, he explained.
A smaller Marine presence means less military construction of community-support facilities such as schools and childcare centers will be needed on Guam, the official said.
The Marines will need land for cantonment, housing and training sites, including live-fire weapons training, the official said. Previous environmental impact studies have determined enough federally-owned land and undeveloped acreage is available on Guam to support training, housing and headquarters requirements, he added.
“The reason we have to do a supplemental environmental impact study, kind of counter-intuitively, is that because the footprint will be smaller, some areas that were not looked at with the bigger footprint have to be studied to see if they are possible,” the official said.
Carter took a helicopter tour of possible sites today. The official said defense leaders are working now to place Marine Corps facilities where they will cause the least possible inconvenience to the island’s residents.
“We don’t want to set up a situation where Marine cantonment is on the far end of the island, with the live-fire training on the opposite end of the island, therefore creating a lot of additional traffic on the local roads,” he added.
Sites for air combat element operations, waterfront operations, and non-live-fire training have already been identified in previous studies and won’t change, the official noted.
“The Marine aviation element is going to go on the north ramp at Andersen [Air Force Base], the waterfront operations will be at Apra Harbor [Naval Station], and Andersen south will be used for non-live-fire training,” he said.
“[Carter] also made the point that the Marine Corps buildup is only part of the story for the military on Guam,” the official said. “We have significant activities at Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Harbor [Naval Base] that also demonstrate the strategic nature of Guam.”
Guam is the westernmost part of the United States and also part of Asia, the official noted.
“[There is] a special strategic meaning to having American territory out here in Asia,” he added.
The official said that during meetings with Carter, Calvo and Bordallo raised topics including visa-waiver approval for Chinese tourists and National Guard funding.
The governor also expressed concern about the impact the Marine Corps relocation will have on Guam’s infrastructure, the official said.
“He made the point that the people of Guam are strongly supportive of this move,” the official added. “They’re patriotic Americans, but they are concerned that their infrastructure deficiencies are also addressed as part of this realignment.”
The governor specifically mentioned fresh water, waste water, and power supply and distribution as sensitive areas in the island’s infrastructure, the official said. He added that Calvo also noted positive developments in port improvements and defense access roads, both of which are largely federally funded.
In response to the governor’s concerns, the official said, Carter explained additional environmental studies are planned to determine what effect a smaller Marine force will have on the island, and what new sites for relocation might support the decreased “footprint” required to support those Marines. Those studies will “delay significant construction for a couple of years,” the official said.
The deputy secretary’s visit demonstrates U.S. leaders’ determination to develop strategic rhetoric into reality here in the Pacific, the official said.
“He’s here not only to convey that message, but to hear from the people out here, throughout his trip, on what the rebalance means to them, and make sure we do it right,” the official added.
Carter also met with U.S. military leaders on Guam during his visit, the official said, and listened to their concerns relating to the strategy shift.
Navy Rear Adm. Paul Bushong, Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Garland, and other Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force leaders stationed on Guam shared their perspectives on service priorities there with the deputy secretary, the official said.