Air Force Col. Michael Boera says Andersen Air Base will benefit from the presence of a general officer as Guam’s strategic importance for U.S. forces continues to grow.

Air Force Col. Michael Boera says Andersen Air Base will benefit from the presence of a general officer as Guam’s strategic importance for U.S. forces continues to grow. (S&S photo)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — The colonel who is handing command of the 36th Wing at this crossroads Pacific base to his successor next week says it’s high time it goes to a general.

And so it will on Oct. 25, when Air Force Col. Michael Boera turns his reins over to Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens.

That Owens will be the first general to command the base in many years speaks to the increasing importance of Andersen, Boera told media Monday in a parting discussion about changes on Guam since he took command and changes to come.

“The Marine movement here, the growing Air Force mission and the growing Navy mission dictated, I believe — and in fact I recommended — an Air Force (general officer) presence back on the island, and the commander of (Pacific Air Forces) obviously agreed,” Boera said.

He said a general’s presence also is warranted in light of the increasing number of foreign visitors — including more than 50 observers of Operation Valiant Shield in June.

“I’ve been able to engage effectively, I think, with all the visitors that we’ve had,” Boera said. “… But having a GO (general officer) assigned here will help in that engagement because in many of the countries rank speaks.”

During the discussion, Boera recounted Andersen’s evolution from its caretaker status in the late 1990s to its ongoing hosting of rotational deployments of bombers, tanker aircraft and, intermittently, fighter units.

“We’ve become a very good platform for the projection of bomber forces, tanker forces, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance forces, and, if need be, fighter forces from here,” he said.

When asked about reports Monday that North Korea named Guam as a potential target, Boera said he had not heard it.

“But, first and foremost, diplomacy is in play,” he added. “If nothing else, this continued rhetoric out of North Korea drives home the importance of the continuing bomber presence that we’ve had at Ander- sen the last three years and it also drives home the importance of the Guam tanker task force and the theater security programs that have been in place.

“My job is to continue to make sure our forces are trained and ready to go should a military instrument of power need to be put into play,” he said. “Like all the rest of the Americans, I hope that diplomacy wins out on this one.”

Current Guam initiatives will result in an increase of about 1,100 airmen to the base during the next 10 years. Combat training and response groups will be housed at the base’s Northwest Field area and three unmanned Global Hawk aircraft are to arrive by 2009.

The evolution was evidenced by changes in the wing’s designation — from 36th Air Base Wing to 36th Air Expeditionary Wing to, in April, the 36th Wing.

“That means that there are so many diverse missions happening out of here that it gets the ‘Wing’ designation,” he said.

To boot, the Navy on Guam will see an increase in submarines, and some 8,000 Marines are to be relocated on the island from Okinawa in coming years.

Boera said if he were to offer Owens advice, “I’d tell him to continue with the community relations as I think we have.”

As for his new job, Boera said he is “excited” to go to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to command PACAF’s Air Operations Center.

“With that said,” he added, “I’m very sad to be leaving Guam and the 36th Wing. I’ve been overwhelmed by the magic of my airmen to make the mission happen on a daily basis.”

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