Americas

Guam residents concerned, but have faith in US military

Guam residents concerned, but have faith in US military
A Guamanian family dining at an Applebee’s in Tamuning. Residents are increasingly worried about Washington’s escalating war of words with North Korea. Photo: The New York Times
Published: 4:00 AM, August 11, 2017

HAGATNA (Guam) — The tiny American territory of Guam feels a strong sense of patriotism and confidence in the American military, which has an enormous presence on the Pacific island. But residents are increasingly worried over Washington’s escalating war of words with North Korea.

The people of Guam woke up yesterday to another pointed threat from Pyongyang, which vowed to complete a plan to attack waters near the island by the middle of this month.

Like other United States territories, Guam has a sometimes complicated relationship with the mainland but many across the island say despite the threats and concerns, they feel reassured and protected by the military — especially in times of tense, geopolitical sparring.

The American military presence on Guam consists of two bases — Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south — which are home to 7,000 US troops.

“I feel that the presence of the military on Guam will help us a lot,” said Ms Virgie Matson, 51, a resident of Dededo, Guam’s most populated village. “They are here to protect the islands, just in case something happens.”

Andersen Air Force Base houses a Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers that rotate to Guam from the US mainland, including the B-2 stealth bomber, B-1 and B-52. Their location in a US territory means its military is just hours from potential flashpoints in the western Pacific.

Naval Base Guam is an important outpost for US fast-attack nuclear powered submarines that are a key means for gathering intelligence in the region, including off the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea, where Beijing has been building military bases on man-made islands.

Guam is equipped with the US Army’s defence system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad), which can intercept missiles.

The US military has said it plans to increase its presence on the island and will move thousands of Marines currently stationed in Japan to the territory between 2024 and 2028.

“I’m pro military build-up,” said resident Gus Aflague, 60, whose grandfather and brother both joined the US Navy. “North Korea has always threatened other countries. They threatened the US, other countries, and they threaten Guam. It’s propaganda, that’s how I feel.”

He added that the military offered an extra reassurance. “I feel safe with our military presence here — Andersen and the Navy,” he said.

There is a sense of patriotism among those who cite the island’s history of Guam residents serving in the US military. The US took control of Guam in 1898, when Spanish authorities surrendered to the US Navy.

But there is also some resentment among Guamanians about not being able to vote for US president.

Resident Isaac Camacho, 19, said: “They (mainland Americans) believe that we are not true US citizens, when we do have plenty of Chamorro people (indigenous people of Guam) going into the US military and serving for their country and dying for their country.’’ AP