Camp Blaz

Camp Blaz (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

With its commandant and Guam’s governor in attendance, the Marine Corps held a second activation ceremony on Thursday for its first new installation in 70 years.

Camp Blaz – still under construction just west of Andersen Air Force Base after a soft activation in October 2020 – is expected to begin welcoming about 5,000 Marines within the next several years.

A soft activation ceremony in October 2020 was limited to a small number of Marines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Blaz spokeswoman Maj. Diann Rosenfield told Stars and Stripes by phone after the event. Thursday’s ceremony was meant to share the special occasion with the local community, she said.

“Some may see this reactivation as the result of problems of challenges in the world – I disagree,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said during the event at Asan Beach Park that was streamed live on Blaz’ Facebook page. “I think the reactivation of Camp Blaz is a symbol of increasing opportunity. It’s a sign of commitment, a sign of friendship, a sign of community and of strength.”

Blaz was born out of the Defense Policy Review Initiative, a joint agreement between the United States and Japan to relocate some Marine assets from Okinawa. Japan is paying $3 billion of the estimated $8.6 billion needed to build the base and surrounding infrastructure.

“I am looking forward to seeing our bilateral accomplishment serving as a foundation for peace and stability and further deepening the alliance,” Jiro Kimura, parliamentary vice minister of defense for Japan, told the audience.

The 4,000-acre base, named in honor of the late Marine Brig. Gen. Vicente “Ben” Tomas Garrido Blaz, a Guam native, is slated to host around 1,300 members of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. An additional 3,700 Marines will be assigned there as a rotational force.

Berger noted the significance of the ceremony’s venue being one of the landing sites of American forces during World War II’s Battle of Guam, when Marines liberated the island from Japanese occupation, and shared a story from Vicente Blaz’ life.

“He was just a boy, 13 years old, overlooking Apra Harbor, when he saw the ships filled with Marines that would land right here on Asan Beach,” Berger said. “It wouldn’t be long before he himself would earn the title United States Marine and one day even commanding the very unit that landed here. It’s an amazing story.”

Nearly 40 Marines and about 110 civilians were working at Blaz as of last month. Construction has progressed steadily, and completed projects include several barracks, an aviation maintenance hangar, firing ranges and infrastructure.

While no date has been set for the transfer of forces from Okinawa to Guam, the general expectation is that it will begin in the mid-2020s, base commander Col. Christopher Bopp told Stars and Stripes last month.

Guam’s governor, Lou Leon Guerrero, said during the ceremony that the success of Guam, the Marines and the Indo-Pacific are “inseparable.”

She also used the moment to highlight the island’s political status. As an unincorporated U.S. territory, Guam residents are U.S. citizens, but they lack the ability to vote in presidential elections and their U.S. House representative is a non-voting delegate.

“It is perhaps [Blaz’] most famous quote that moves us today,” she said. “’We are equal in war, but not in peace.’ That best reflects the current situation of Guam and the other U.S. territories – while we are still not equal in peace in the manner that General Blaz and many others envision for Guam and our people, we have made progress.”

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

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