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Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens, commander of the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens, commander of the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (Frank Whitman / Special to S&S)

Humbled by his reception from Guam’s veterans and enthusiastic about a new unmanned aircraft built to size up future enemies, Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens took stock Tuesday of his first weeks as commander of the 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.

The one-star general — the first 36th Wing unit commander of that rank in more than a dozen years — told local media at a news conference that he sees no immediate changes in base plans, mission or policy.

But then, he’s already inherited a lot of plans as the Air Force and Navy lay the groundwork for significant military developments on the island.

While a $53 million hangar and operations complex for the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft was only recently authorized for fiscal 2007, Andersen will host its first Global Hawk aircraft in late spring, Owens said.

“It will be here for demonstration only,” Owens said. A number of Pacific Rim nations as well as stateside Air Force leaders have been invited to observe the demonstration, he added.

Cruising at high altitudes, the Global Hawk can survey vast areas with pinpoint accuracy, to give military decision-makers the most current information about enemy location, resources and personnel, according to the Air Force.

Four to six Global Hawks are expected to be based permanently at Andersen by 2009.

Turning to other military developments, Owens said that he doesn’t believe the recent resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld portends any immediate changes in the Air Force’s plans for Andersen. But any changes down the road remain to be seen.

“With new leadership in the Pentagon, it is yet to be seen how that might translate over time,” he said. “So we’ll stand by, but we’re pressing forward with the current plans that we have in place.”

Perhaps one of the most significant plans for Guam is the relocation of 8,000 Marines plus family members and civilian employees to the island from Okinawa. A U.S.-Japan military realignment plan targeted 2014 for completion of the move.

Owens said there have been shifts in planning oversight from the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii to the Navy Project Management Office in Washington, D.C. But Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf, PACOM deputy commander, “is still leading the charge for PACOM and we’ll see more Big Navy leadership in this role as they take over responsibility for the department as far as the Guam build-up.”

Owens also spoke Tuesday about Guam’s past in recounting last week’s Veterans Day ceremony, during which Guam veterans whose education was disrupted by World War II were awarded high school diplomas by the Guam Public School System.

“I shook the hand of every one of them as they came across the stage and a good portion of them saluted me,” he said. “I found that extraordinarily humbling … many of them can hardly walk and stand up straight.

“For them to stand up and give a crooked salute, that’s something else. I think that is representative of this island and the reception that we have received.”

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