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Guam Faces Over-Crowding Problem
Stars and Stripes  |  By Teri Weaver  |  September 25, 2007
Nearly 40,000 new military personnel and family members would move to Guam in coming years as part of the Pentagon's overall plans to build up troop strength and operations on the island, according to the retired Marine general charged with directing the expansion.

That includes the often-reported 8,000 Marines and their families who are expected to move to Guam by 2014. But the big picture also calls for an Army ballistic defense missile station and servicemembers to support periodic visits by aircraft carriers, according to retired Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Project Office.

The numbers do not include thousands of sailors on the carriers, which are expected to visit the island three times a year for three-week visits, according to Bice's office and a report released this month from the Government Accountability Office.

And the announced increases -- 39,130 estimated servicemembers and their families -- also don't include long-term contractors, teachers and other civilian workers needed to support the troops, according to the GAO, Congress's auditing and investigative arm.

Those 39,130 people alone would increase the island's population of 171,000 by nearly 23 percent. Currently, there are about 14,000 servicemembers and family members on Guam.

Finding room

To make room, the military could need more than its current footprint of 40,000 acres on the island, according to the report. That would mark a shift from previous officials' statements that they would build on existing military land, which covers 29 percent of the island.

Bice, in a telephone interview last week, said his office has yet to determine whether the military would need additional land for the $13 billion project.

"Our guidance was to look at [currently held] lands first," Bice said from Washington. "We, in fact, are doing that."

Part of that determination depends on an ongoing environmental review required before construction can begin, Bice said. The process could deem a piece of military-controlled land unsuitable for buildup. It also could determine if the military's use on one piece of land could adversely affect adjacent sites.

"It's too early to say whether some land can't be used," Bice said of the review process.

Bice also said the military was considering offers from private landowners throughout the island who would like to lease or sell their land for warehousing space or buildings for the construction and buildup.

The military would need temporary sites for construction offices and worker housing, as well as space for permanent operations. To complete the project by 2014, an extra 15,000 to 20,000 workers would be needed on the island, according to the GAO report.

Tough sell

The report, released this month, acknowledges that Pentagon leaders know the $13 billion project may be a tough sell to Congress when competing against other military needs and spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to funding, the document also cites concerns about other aspects of the project, including the island's inadequate infrastructure, the increased distance between the Guam Marines and U.S. bases in Asia, and Guam's ability to tackle such a massive construction project.

The GAO points out that some of its concerns come as the military is working to answer similar questions: how to position troops on the island, what services will be needed to care for them and their families, and how much the federal government will contribute to upgrading the island's poor water, sewage, electricity and landfill systems.

Bice and other military leaders have acknowledged the challenges in the past. Last week, Bice said he continues to work with Guam's leaders to address concerns and to incorporate the military's plans into the island's master plans.

"We don't want to build a firing range next to a senior citizen center," he said.

Shortfalls

The report's two major criticisms include the military's failure to make money off of turning over U.S. bases to Asian countries and the lack of planning to solve an air-range shortage in South Korea.

As the military realigns in the Pacific, it is turning over lands to South Korea and Japan. So far, the Pentagon is not looking for any resale value in the turnovers as a part of the overall agreements with the foreign governments. In Europe, countries have paid the United States $592 million in "residual value" and in-kind payments since 1989, the GAO says.

The report also points out that the military's plans in the Pacific, including the Guam expansion, do not specifically address the U.S. Air Force's current training problems in South Korea. According to the report, the 7th Air Force at Osan Air Base "may be unable to maintain combat capability in the long term because of a lack of adequate air-to-surface ranges."

In the past, America used the Koon-Ni range for air-to-grand practice. That range closed in 2005, and attempts to use other South Korean ranges have been difficult. The other ranges do not provide electronic scoring capabilities and airmen have had trouble scheduling training time.

"As a result, the Air Force has been using ranges in Japan and Alaska to meet its training requirements, which results in additional transportation costs to the U.S. government," the report states.

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