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U.S Military's Move From Japan To Guam Underway

The United States has based troops on Okinawa and in Japan since the end of World War II. The 3rd U.S. Marine Division and large amounts of air assets are based on the island seized in a bloody battle in April through June of 1945. The U.S. and Japanese governments have been negotiating for years to close the air base at Futenma and moving most of the troops off of the island. A new airbase will be built on Okinawa in a less built up area. In 2006 it was decided that the U.S. Territory of Guam would be the site chosen. Japan has long desired the removal of U.S. troops and proper integration of the island back into it.

This is one of the largest changes to the U.S. military's facilities and basing as part of the last round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). Guam is already providing heavy support to U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq by supporting fixed wing Air Force assets as well as transport flights. The plan is to expand the base to allow the 3rd Marines to be stationed their as well as increased support assets including a pier for aircraft carriers. Along with Marine and Navy assets an Army air defense organization will also be moved.

All this will require new bases and facilities paid for by both the U.S. and Japanese governments. The building boom will be a big plus to the island's economy although there are many in the Territory who are worried about the massive influx of new U.S. forces and their dependents. The new more liberal Government of Japan is also having second thoughts wanting further negotiations despite the U.S. holding firm on their commitment to the 2006 deal. They want perhaps a complete move of the air assets without building a new base. Many in Okinawa and Guam see massive environmental disruption and damage from the construction and moves no matter what the boon to the economy of the territory will be.

The U.S. Navy announced this week despite the controversies that the first construction contracts using Japanese money were to be awarded. The $50 million contract with AHL Setiadi Gushiken Joint Venture LLC of Honolulu is for engineering support and architecture services that will begin the process of laying out and building the new facilities. Two actual projects were also executed with the Japanese funding to build a headquarters and fire station. The total amount expected to be contributed by Japan is over $6 billion with almost $3 billion in cash.

There have been other arguments about the size of the population growth, lack of infrastructure and how the contracts will be divided up. Many of the companies will be from off island and utilize non-U.S. workers. There have also been disputes about the wages involved and whether they will be U.S. minimum, lower or union level. Obviously the higher the wages the greater the cost to the U.S. military but at the same time the workers must be treated fairly.

This is one of the largest facility expansion in modern U.S. history. Only the construction of the permanent facilities in Iraq, Vietnam and Afghanistan in the last forty years come close. A total of almost 20,000 new residents will eventually be transferred to the island over several years. As Guam builds up Okinawa will wind down with a negative effect on that islands' economy. This is a difficult process that politics only makes harder but to answer the wishes of Japan Guam will receive the good and bad of having a large U.S. military base built on it.