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Remote island would accommodate 17,000 marines

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 6, 2008) – U.S. military officials yesterday said securing the Northern Marianas for training ranges is crucial to the movement of American troops from Okinawa, Japan to Guam.

Brig. Gen. Rex McMillian, deputy commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces in the Pacific, and Rear Adm. William D. French, briefed lawmakers and answered their queries about the planned relocation of 8,000 U.S Marines from Okinawa and their 9,000 dependents to Guam.

French is the U.S. Defense Representative to Guam, the CNMI, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau and the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in the Marianas,

Roy Tsutsui, coordinating officer of the U.S. Department of Defense, also participated in the briefing.

Last week, Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Richardson, U.S. Army director for logistics, engineering and security assistance of the J-4 United States Pacific Command, met with lawmakers.

French said the military is always open for consultations with the local leaders and the members of the community,

McMillian said Tinian, a former forward base of the American forces during World War II , will be used as a "warm base."

Two-thirds of public lands on Tinian are leased to the U.S. military.

According to the military officials, the warm base can accommodate as many as 3,500 troops for training purposes at any given time.

"The troops will not be deployed permanently but they will move up there for training for a specific period of time. They will utilize the training ranges and then pack-up and move out again," McMillian told Variety.

The visiting general said the Marines will not be the only members of the armed forces to use Tinian.

Also crucial to the U.S. and Japan’s realignment of forces’ plan is Pagan — a volcanic island about 75 miles north of Saipan.

McMillian said Pagan is envisioned to host "coordinated and synchronized training exercises" for as many as 17,000 Marines.

The area is also proposed to be used by U.S. military allies like Australia for joint simulated military drills.

"We always train with other partners in the Pacific and we’ve invited them to come over and train with us. It improves their capabilities and our capabilities. If we can get them up to come up with our training ranges, they come up to our training ranges in the United States and we go down to Australia, so it’s natural for them to come up to the Northern Marianas for training also," McMillian said.

Speaker Arnold I. Palacios, R-Saipan, said yesterday’s briefing was "most informative."

"He (McMillian) said the movement of the troops from Okinawa to Guam is not going to happen if we don’t have a training facility. You don’t just move them to Guam. You have to have a training facility for them," said Palacios.

"There’s no room on Guam for training facilities for these people so they are looking at their key component in the Northern Marianas which is Tinian and potentially Pagan. That’s what it is," Palacios added. "One cannot exist without the other."

Guam expects the draft master plan for the military buildup project in their area to be completed this month.

That of the Northern Marianas is due to be released by the end of the year.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said his administration would like to discuss the military’s plans before the master plan is completed.

"Looking beyond next year, we hope that the commonwealth will share in the economic benefits resulting from the military buildup on Guam. I have directed all CNMI agencies to cooperate fully with the different environmental studies of our islands being conducted by federal officials," said the governor.

"We read in the media about possible military uses on Tinian, Pagan, the most Northern islands, and recently Goat Island. The lt. governor and I believe that the military planners should discuss these issues with commonwealth representatives before — not after — they formalize their draft master plan," he added.

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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