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By Gerardo R. Partido

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 12) – The Guam delegation that lobbied in Washington, D.C. for more military deployments on island is back with the good news that this U.S. territory will most likely emerge as a winner in the current realignment of forces that the Pentagon is undertaking.

"There were no specifics given but the sense that all of us got was that there will be a larger military footprint on Guam," said Gerald Perez, administrator of the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority.

Perez, along with Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo and Guam Chamber of Commerce officials Lee Webber, Jim Atkins and Carl Peterson, just came back from Washington where they attended meetings on the military’s planned repositioning of forces.

While there, the members of the Guam delegation also lobbied Washington officials to have more military assets deployed to Guam, including an aircraft carrier group that Hawaii is also competing for.

For security reasons, Perez said Pentagon and military officials talked to the delegation on the condition that the details not be publicly announced.

"But we were left with the perception that there would be a lot more military deployments coming to Guam. I remember four years ago, when we were first meeting people in D.C. it was hard to get an appointment with even lower ranked officers. But lately the doors have been opening," Perez said.

A measure of Guam’s importance was reflected in the delegation’s ability on short notice to meet high-ranking officials like the secretaries of the Navy and the Air Force.

The delegation also met the chief of staff of the Air Force, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and at least half a dozen deputy assistant secretaries for various operations such as planning, logistics and property management.

According to Perez, these military officials all had positive things to say about Guam. He cited a New York Times article dated April 7 which quotes Gen. William J. Begert, Pacific Air Force commander, as saying that the Pentagon is openly talking about increasing Air Force and Navy assets on Guam.

"Guam, first of all, is U.S. territory. I don’t need overflight rights. I don’t need landing rights. I always have permission to go to Guam. It might as well be California or New Jersey," Begert said.

According to Perez, there are three factors driving the military’s interest on Guam now. Foremost is Guam’s strategic location as the westernmost U.S. soil from which to project military power to back up American diplomatic policy.

"The second factor is the receptiveness of the people and government not only of Guam but also the CNMI to accommodate more military activities and to make the military more welcome. The third factor is the new philosophy of the military in having small and nimble force structures launched from various ‘lily pad’ sites all over the world," Perez said.

He added that the period during which the Guam delegation met with the military was a crucial window of opportunity which Guam could not have let pass.

Between March 15, which was the deadline for Congress to approve the selection criteria which was passed, and April, during which the comptroller general is required to review the force structure plan and infrastructure inventory submitted to Congress, the comptroller general is tasked with preparing an evaluation of the various submitted force structure plans, infrastructure inventories, selection criteria, and the need for closure and realignment of additional military installations.

"So we had to get in there and present Guam’s case during that crucial period. In fact, some of the other places hosting military bases have started to show up in Washington to also lobby their causes. But a Pentagon official assured us that Guam was way ahead of the curve because we’ve already planted our message and we’ve already presented our case," Perez said.

April 13, 2004

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