By Jayvee L. Vallejera

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 6) – Noted Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) historian Don Farrell loves to badger me whenever he feels that the print media is giving short shrift to Tinian or is not giving much attention to Tinian issues. In addition to the e-mails I regularly receive from him, he would sometimes get so worked up about an issue that he would actually call to give a blow-by-blow analysis or commentary on a particular issue.

I don't mind in the least because, in addition to his typical straight-shooting talk, Don is also a big-picture guy, a historian in the truest sense of the word in that he always looks at things from a bigger perspective, seeing the patterns of current events and how they are woven into the whole fabric of what is past, present and future. His insights on emerging trends are particularly intriguing and he recently shared with me one such insight on this planned relocation of the U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and the consequences of such an action many years down the road.

As he described it to me, the reunification of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands will eventually happen. Not in the next five years but possibly 10, 20, or 30 years down the road, and the one that will make it happen will be the U.S. military, under what may possibly emerge as the State of the Marianas.

Here's how he sees it: Tinian right now is being eyed as a training base for "up to battalion strength exercises." This is on top of the spillover effect that the relocation of the Marines to Guam will have on Saipan.

"The Third Marine Division includes the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is considered a battalion, although it has about 2,000 total personnel. According to its web site, it re-qualifies for operations every 90 days. Therefore, by definition, it is a training organization. Look at its web site. Just Google up '31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.' That is who I think is eventually coming to dinner on Guam, for a long, long time," Don said.

Further, he said that the Department of the Navy is increasing the size of its Marine Corps by another 30,000 troops.

"Historical fact: Tinian has been used previously by the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit for combined exercises on Tinian, including Tandum Thrust. Previous commanding officers of the 31st told me personally that as far as they were concerned, Tinian was the best training ground they had ever used, bar none. They each undoubtedly put that in their debriefing reports. Ergo, there was not problem with the Corps saying yes, although they would miss the life they had been accustomed to in Okinawa. The Corps also knows that life follows the Corps. They will adjust and make do. To make sure the rest of the 3rd has quality living for their families, they will be home ported officially in Guam, the social center of the Western Pacific."

"Conclusion: Tinian is going to become a permanent training facility for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. All other Marines and other armed services personnel that need cross training for amphibious operations will have the opportunity to enjoy a TDY Tinian."

"The United States Navy will need the harbor for supply ships to feed and house a thousand men at North Field. Therefore, they will have to completely rebuild Tinian Harbor and maintain the roads to North Field, just as they did during the war."

"They will need a fuel supply for their helicopter squadron and armored vehicles."

"They will need their own, permanent medical facility."

"They will need their own galley to feed a thousand men a day."

"They will need permanent housing for the base headquarters and training unit."

"They will need water and power." (They have already asked our power plant manager if the current Tinian unit can handle their power demands. The answer was yes but they have to pay for the wire and poles. Will the Marine Corps allow its unit to be dependent on telephone poles in the typhoon belt?)

"Yes, the Marines are coming. It is just a matter of when and how. Personally, I think it is great. It will be a tremendous stabilizing factor in the CNMI economy. Add to that the casino industry and this island will become the boom town of the Pacific," Don said.

Under such a scenario, it is therefore not too far off to imagine that the U.S. military will eventually pave the way for the reunification of the Marianas, Don said. With the U.S. Marines permanently stationed in Guam and regularly hopping to Saipan and Tinian for training or R&R purposes, having two separate U.S. territories for such a small group of islands would become impractical.

Then of course, time heals all wounds. Succeeding generations will harbor less and less of that animosity that has sprung up between the CNMI and its northern neighbors over World War II wounds. Reunification will eventually happen. Not now. Not tomorrow. But eventually.

[Jayvee Vallejera is the editor of the Saipan Tribune.]

Saipan Tribune

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