By Capt. David W. Eastburn, 94th AAMDC PAONovember 16, 2009
TUMON BAY, Guam -- "Guam: Where America\'s Day Begins." This slogan is plastered on bumper stickers, t-shirts and signs in the tourist filled enclave here. The 32nd largest island in the U.S., this tropical territory currently finds its self the primary focus of world-wide missile defense.
The 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command (AAMDC) is in the process of standing up a fully functional Missile Defense Task Force for the Pacific Region on the island of Guam, greatly enhancing its ability for a rapid response to any missile threat in the area of responsibility (AOR).
Stranding up such a task-force from scratch produces many challenges for military and civilian defense agencies alike. "The biggest challenge we face right now is the availability of forces and equipment," said Army Col. James Spangler, Operations Officer, 94th AAMDC. "Asking for an AMD task force that is currently not part of the Army force structure is a big hurdle, especially while the Army focuses their efforts on two different wars."
Brig. Gen. Phil Ruhlman, Commander of the Air Force's 36th Wing at Andersen Air Force Base, shared the same concerns. "Making the decision to bring the (Missile Defense) Task Force to Guam was easy," said Ruhlman. "The logistics are crazy." Ruhlman went on to explain that coordination is crucial when dealing with missile defense and the steady flow of air traffic over Guam. "Andersen (AFB) has a bomber presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Ruhlman. "There's 7.5 million square feet of ramp space and miles of runway, the number of aircraft we have is amazing."
People, coordination and equipment are just two of the many challenges that the 94th AAMDC face while facilitating this mission. The man standing at the summit of the mountain of challenges, 94th AAMDC Commanding General, Army Col. (P) Jeff Underhill, runs the daily gauntlet of meetings and office calls to ensure this mission's success. "Our purpose is to enable the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command transition for all stake holders (Department of Defense (DoD) and the Government of Guam) involved," said Underhill in a recent meeting with Guam Governor Felix Camacho. "I'm thankful we're able to sit down and dialogue the points of interests or concerns while working together to resolve them for the right capability in support of the Guam military build-up."
The current plan has the 94th AAMDC standing up a Missile Defense Task Force consisting of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Missile (THAAD) Battery, a PAC-3 Patriot Missile Battery, and a Stinger Missile "SLAMRAAM" Battery, providing a full spectrum of missile defense against any threat in the region.
"Guam and its military assets are critically important to USPACOM" said Spangler. "Providing an Air and Missile Defense Task Force provides protection of the critical strategic assets on Guam and ensures the Theater Commander the freedom of action to meet mission requirements."
Manning a unit of this size will be somewhere between 600 and 900 Soldiers and their families. This is in addition to the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 Marines and their families scheduled to move to Guam from Okinawa beginning early 2012. Although it seems like an unnatural shift to the infrastructure of this island, the military and civilians alike are ready.
One such organization that combines the two groups, Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) and their Joint Guam Program Office (JGPO) is rapidly preparing for the change. The JGPO was established by the Department of Defense (DoD) to facilitate, manage, coordinate, and execute certain DoD actions in Guam relating to the relocation of Marines from Okinawa and the standing up of the Missile Defense Task Force.
The residents of Guam have concerns of the moves, but at the same time they realize it means many more jobs for an already slumping economy. According to sources at the JGPO, the contracts for building and base improvements on Guam, should be offered to local companies first. "This is a very good thing for Guam," said Army Lt. Col. Jack Letherman, Assistant Logistics Officer for 94th AAMDC. "The (Missile Defense) Task Force moving here could potentially bring many jobs to Guam."
The standing up of the Joint Missile Defense Task Force in Guam has many implications on the tiny U.S. territory, most of which is the safety of the region. From Guam, the 94th AAMDC will be able to protect the nation's assets in the region from any adversary's missile attacks.
The decision to integrate Missile Defense with Andersen AFB allows the U.S. to be even more relevant and ready. "Andersen is undergoing a massive joint transformation with 50 year decisions that have 50 year impact," said Ruhlman. "The strategic location of Guam is immeasurable."