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Business community primed on regional investments

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - While there's talks of military cuts in the nation's capitol here on the home front the island's business community got an update on major initiatives and investments currently underway and planned for the Marianas region.

During a recent meeting of the Guam Chamber of Commerce Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Admiral Tilghman Payne spoke about the Department of Defense's vision of the Marianas as a whole. He discussed how critical the Marianas is for the military with their plans to provide security and engage U.S. partners and allies in the region.

He spoke before the Chamber giving members a feel for the initiatives the Department of Defense is undertaking as it rebalances toward the Pacific. "Things that you can see that we're working on that are expanding upon the capacity and capability that we have now," he said.

Rear Admiral Payne said there are currently four big initiatives. One being the Pacific Air Forces desire to put an alternative or divert air field in the Marianas. DOD is currently eyeing Saipan or Tinian as the potential site. The Pacific Air Forces is currently waiting for the release of a record of decision. "So if anything ever happened to Andersen and we couldn't land on it or if we needed to provide humanitarian assistance somewhere if we need another air field to support that we would have Saipan or Tinian," he said.

The second initiative is one Guam is very familiar with: the relocation of Marine Corps troops from Okinawa to Guam.   A record of decision is also forthcoming. "You've been hearing about that for years everybody asks me when that's going to happen and it keeps morphing little by little its not what it was originally going to be the 8,600 down to about 5,000. But its steadily marching on," he said.

The third initiative is the DOD's plans for the MITT range or the Marianas Island Testing and Training range.  Military officials are waiting for the ROD to come out on this proposal as well.   "We're looking to expand that expand it beyond the EEZ even of the Marianas because when the U.S. military does exercise we need to make sure that we're doing it in a not a self conscious manner but a responsible manner with respect to the environment," he said.

The fourth and final initiative according to Rear Admiral Payne is plans for a joint military training range. "Its our ability to expand the use of Tinian and even perhaps Pagan due north in the Marianas to accommodate the additional training we would like to do here. In conjunction with the Marine Corps' move and again the rebalance in the Pacific, bringing our forces you can't just put them out in the front you got to be able to train them and sustain them," he said.

Aside from the four initiatives which he referred as muscle moves. Rear Admiral Payne also noted two other big projects that are currently underway. The first of which is called Silver Flag Training which is part of the reason why if you've ever driven by northwest field in Northern Guam you might have seen increased construction activity. "One of the things they're doing is the Silver Flag Training which is a key component to Air Force training folks that are going down range, folks that are going to war or deployed throughout Asia they've been training at a school to Okinawa and that school is moving to Northwest Field. it's a throughput of a thousand airmen a year," he said.

The Silver Training which will gear up in Guam in October. And finally the second initiative is the future homeporting of the USS Topeka in Guam.

"We have three fast attack submarines down at Big Navy now and a tender we will soon have four it's about a year out so we will have a fourth submarine out here.  Its evidence of what the Navy and Department of Defense are doing as part of the military rebalance to the Pacific," he said.

According to Admiral Payne the submarine brings with it about 237 active service members which represents $20 million in pay and benefits to sailors coming to Guam.

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