How will they all fit on Guam?
Nearly 40,000 new military personnel and family members would move to Guam in coming years as part of the Pentagon’s overall plans to build up troop strength and operations on the island, according to the retired Marine general charged with directing the expansion.
That includes the often-reported 8,000 Marines and their families who are expected to move to Guam by 2014. But the big picture also calls for an Army ballistic defense missile station and servicemembers to support periodic visits by aircraft carriers, according to retired Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Project Office.
The numbers do not include thousands of sailors on the carriers, which are expected to visit the island three times a year for three-week visits, according to Bice’s office and a report released this month from the Government Accountability Office.
And the announced increases — 39,130 estimated servicemembers and their families — also don’t include long-term contractors, teachers and other civilian workers needed to support the troops, according to the GAO, Congress’s auditing and investigative arm.
Those 39,130 people alone would increase the island’s population of 171,000 by nearly 23 percent. Currently, there are about 14,000 servicemembers and family members on Guam.
To make room, the military could need more than its current footprint of 40,000 acres on the island, according to the report. That would mark a shift from previous officials’ statements that they would build on existing military land, which covers 29 percent of the island.
Bice, in a telephone interview last week, said his office has yet to determine whether the military would need additional land for the $13 billion project.
“Our guidance was to look at [currently held] lands first,” Bice said from Washington. “We, in fact, are doing that.”
Part of that determination depends on an ongoing environmental review required before construction can begin, Bice said. The process could deem a piece of military-controlled land unsuitable for buildup. It also could determine if the military’s use on one piece of land could adversely affect adjacent sites.
“It’s too early to say whether some land can’t be used,” Bice said of the review process.
Bice also said the military was considering offers from private landowners throughout the island who would like to lease or sell their land for warehousing space or buildings for the construction and buildup.
The military would need temporary sites for construction offices and worker housing, as well as space for permanent operations. To complete the project by 2014, an extra 15,000 to 20,000 workers would be needed on the island, according to the GAO report.
The report, released this month, acknowledges that Pentagon leaders know the $13 billion project may be a tough sell to Congress when competing against other military needs and spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to funding, the document also cites concerns about other aspects of the project, including the island’s inadequate infrastructure, the increased distance between the Guam Marines and U.S. bases in Asia, and Guam’s ability to tackle such a massive construction project.
The GAO points out that some of its concerns come as the military is working to answer similar questions: how to position troops on the island, what services will be needed to care for them and their families, and how much the federal government will contribute to upgrading the island’s poor water, sewage, electricity and landfill systems.
Bice and other military leaders have acknowledged the challenges in the past. Last week, Bice said he continues to work with Guam’s leaders to address concerns and to incorporate the military’s plans into the island’s master plans.
“We don’t want to build a firing range next to a senior citizen center,” he said.
The report’s two major criticisms include the military’s failure to make money off of turning over U.S. bases to Asian countries and the lack of planning to solve an air-range shortage in South Korea.
As the military realigns in the Pacific, it is turning over lands to South Korea and Japan. So far, the Pentagon is not looking for any resale value in the turnovers as a part of the overall agreements with the foreign governments. In Europe, countries have paid the United States $592 million in “residual value” and in-kind payments since 1989, the GAO says.
The report also points out that the military’s plans in the Pacific, including the Guam expansion, do not specifically address the U.S. Air Force’s current training problems in South Korea. According to the report, the 7th Air Force at Osan Air Base “may be unable to maintain combat capability in the long term because of a lack of adequate air-to-surface ranges.”
In the past, America used the Koon-Ni range for air-to-grand practice. That range closed in 2005, and attempts to use other South Korean ranges have been difficult. The other ranges do not provide electronic scoring capabilities and airmen have had trouble scheduling training time.
“As a result, the Air Force has been using ranges in Japan and Alaska to meet its training requirements, which results in additional transportation costs to the U.S. government,” the report states.
The cost of doing businessThe military estimates the Guam buildup project will cost $13 billion. This includes moving 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam, an Army ballistic missile defense system and a new Navy pier capable of berthing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The Marines’ move is estimated at $10.6 billion, of which the Japanese have pledged to pay $6.1 billion. Of that, $2.8 billion is expected in cash. The remaining, however, will come in Japanese investments that the country may recoup over time.
For example, the Japanese government may build on-base housing then charge the U.S. military rental payments. That money would come in servicemembers’ housing allowances, or American money.
Japan will not fund the project until it has agreed to “specific infrastructure plans for Guam,” according to the GAO report.
So far, Japan has approved spending $228 million for planning and initial construction funds.
Where they go from here As the military works to develop its plans to increase troops on Guam, it also must adhere to an environmental review process that could take up to three years.
The review covers the move of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, a new Navy pier, a ballistic missile defense force and training requirements in other areas in the Northern Marianas island chain.
The review started in March. Last spring the military held meetings to solicit public comments. Nearly 1,000 comments were released this month at http://www. guambuildupeis.us/.
The military’s planning will continue in tandem with the environmental review. The construction deadline for the $13 billion project remains in 2014, a goal that retired Marine Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Project Office, expects to meet.
He summarized the project office’s timeline during a phone interview from his Washington office last week:
November 2007Present a list of “preferred alternative” sites — or areas outside the military’s existing footprint — for the buildup. Bice said the goal is to use existing land before looking to other parts of Guam. It’s unclear, however, whether the currently held land will meet the military’s needs and the environmental review standards.
March 2008Draft an initial master plan.
July 2008Release a preferred master plan, a more detailed document but one that cannot be considered final until the environmental review is complete.
February 2009Provide the project’s official budget submission to the Pentagon and the president.
October 2009Include the Guam buildup in the 2009-2010 budget, the spending cycle Bice is aiming toward for spending approvals.
January 2010Release a final master plan, complete with authorized spending and a completed environmental review.
Summer 2010Start construction.