Military Forces on Guam – A Double-Edged Sword
September 2, 2019
Guam is famous as the locus of United States Military forces in the far Pacific. Just north of the equator, so far west it’s actually east (“where America’s day begins”), it’s a relatively short flight to Japan, China, or even North Korea. The military is the primary driver of Guam’s economy, even more than tourism. Along with other federal government programs, federal spending accounts for some 40% of Guam’s GDP.
There are those who believe the U.S. military protects Guam and keeps it safe, but there is an increasingly vocal group who believe the military presence brings as many problems as it solves.
For decades, there were approximately 5,000 troops stationed on the island, divided between Anderson Air Force Base and Guam Naval Base. With spouses and children, military families included 12,000 people, about 7% of Guam’s population. But the ties are even greater than the numbers imply.
In an article in the Guam Daily Post called “Our situation is fragile and we lack the will to improve,” Ron McNinch states, “More than 75% of the public has direct relationships with the military, either through military service or immediate relatives who have served.” Guam has one of the highest concentrations of military veterans among U.S. states and territories. One in eight adults on the Pacific island have served in the armed forces, but the island ranked last in the country for per capita medical spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2012.
Now, there are plans to move another 4,000-5,000 marines from Okinawa to a new location near Anderson Air Force Base, along with another 2,400 dependents, within the next ten years.
Guam’s Governor Lou Leon Guerrero believes this will be positive for the island but many wonder why the Japanese are so anxious to be rid of the marines, even contributing $3.1 billion of the $8.7 billion cost for relocation. Rumors abound of high crime rates in Okinawa (although the military disputes this.)
Without doubt the Okinawans feel displaced by US personnel, something Guam’s local Chammoro population can relate to. After World War II the federal government purchased over 27% of Guam land for military use, sometimes at ridiculously low prices. (See the Untold Story on YouTube.)
Now, more troops may mean an increased “gentrification” of the Guam economy. Military discounts & housing allowances cause the cost of living to rise for rest of Guam citizens, and this can lead to resentment.
According to Wikipedia,
With the proposed increased military presence stemming from the upcoming preparation efforts and relocation efforts of U.S. Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam slated to begin in 2010 and last for the next several years thereafter, the amount of total land that the military will control or tenant may grow to or surpass 40% of the entire landmass of Guam.
Protecting Guam’s Environment
The second largest sector of Guam’s economy comes from tourism. Over a million people travel to Guam each year to experience pristine white sand beaches, explore coral reefs teeming with aquatic life, and hike lush tropical forests.
But the military presence here compromises that environmental purity. It is ironic that an institution dedicated to protecting our oil interests is also the single largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world, and the 5th largest producer of greenhouse gases – more than most countries.
While we can’t blame the military for all of global warming, rising sea temperatures killed 34% of Guam’s coral reefs between 2013 and 2017, University of Guam researchers said last month.
Even the military admits that the infamous brown tree snake arrived on Guam aboard military cargo vessels in the early 1950’s, decimating Guam’s indigenous bird population.
Finally, the military uses its land for firing ranges & other testing facilities, contributing to the noise pollution near the Air Force base.
It’s Not All Bad News
Many Guamanians remember the Japanese occupation of World War II and remain eternally grateful for the subsequent US liberation. Liberation Day is still celebrated every July 21st to commemorate the occasion.
Military units are encouraged to adopt local communities, providing social programs and services.
Last year, the E.P.A. awarded $14.7 million to Guam to protect the environment.
And as for the buildup – according to Guam Senator James Moylan, more people, more spending, will lead to more jobs and a strengthened economy.