Officials high on Guam’s future as Valiant Shield wraps up
Colonel: Andersen no longer a ‘Sleepy Hollow base’
By ALLISON BATDORFF | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 25, 2006
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — U.S. military officials sang Guam’s praises during the weeklong Valiant Shield exercise that wrapped up Friday, with several speaking of the military’s future plans for the Air Force on the island.
Valiant Shield brought 22,000 military personnel, 30 ships — including three aircraft carriers — and about 300 warplanes in the air and waters off the U.S. territory.
“Guam continues to grow in importance,” said Lt. Gen. David Deptula from Valiant Shield’s air command post in Hawaii. “Our geo-strategic position allows us to position forces to respond to any international event.”
He said Valiant Shield wasn’t prompted by China and North Korea, which the Pentagon has identified as the two primary threats in the region. During the course of the week, a group of Chinese delegates observed the exercise on an aircraft carrier and two Yokosuka, Japan-based Aegis-missile destroyers — the USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Fitzgerald — left Valiant Shield to stand by in waters outside North Korea, which U.S. officials have said appears to be preparing a long-range missile for launch.
“I leave that (North Korea) to the policy-makers. We have forces in Guam that allows us to respond,” Deptula said. “Potential aggressors should take note of that.”
Planned military build-up likely will have a profound effect on Andersen Air Force Base, said Col. Michael Boera, who commands the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing. The 8,500-person base community likely will jump by up to 3,000 in the next few years, he said.
“We’re no longer the Sleepy Hollow base of yesteryear,” Boera said. “We are on a big-time up cycle.”
But with growth will come challenges, Boera cautioned. He said he’s waiting to see how the plans will affect the infrastructure of the island, which, at about 208.5 square miles is just three times the size of Washington, D.C.
Most local people want the Air Force build-up, expecting it will inject $700 million to $1 billion into the local economy, he said. But two anti-militarization groups also are gathering signatures online asking the United Nations to stop the development, according to the Marianas Variety newspaper.
Military financial constraints are another issue, Boera said.
“Costs change on a daily basis,” he said. “The Air Force is undergoing budget restrictions.”
Still, basing Pacific air operations out of Guam is cheaper than flying from Japan, Korea or the continental United States, he said.
“We save on every flying hour, which that can cost $1,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, because we’re not flying from the States,” Boera said. “It’s exciting to be on the planning end.”
The Marine Corps also is planning to relocate 8,000 servicmembers plus families and civilian support workers from Okinawa to Guam, starting in 2008, at a build-up cost projected at $10 billion.
The Navy, too, has announced forthcoming additions to include more submarines.
Projects in the works
Col. Michael Boera, who commands the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, listed other projects that affect the Air Force here:
- An Air Force Red Horse unit bringing 300 to 400 people from Osan, South Korea, already is moving in and is to be permanently established later this summer.
- A permanent air tanker squadron is planned for the base, bringing 300 to 400 people.
- A RQ-4 Global Hawk unit — bringing 50 people for the unmanned surveillance plane — is to be fully operational by 2009.
- A training facility will be built on Andersen’s northwest side.