Guam stays relaxed amid North Korea nuclear standoff
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE: When North Korea last year bragged of plans to lob a salvo of ballistic missiles toward Guam, residents of this relaxed American island in the western Pacific didn’t seem too worried. Months later, and with tensions still high, they remain sanguine. “We know that if anything was to happen, there would be a lot of efforts to keep us safe and make sure we aren’t hit by anything,” says Blake Bristol, manager of Mosa’s Joint diner in the capital Hagatna.
“We are just going to hang out and enjoy the time that we have. If it happens, it happens-that’s how it is.”Though Guam is US territory and home to more than 160,000 people, few Americans give the island much thought-and even fewer will ever visit. But it briefly came to prominence last year amid a flurry of North Korea weapons tests.
In a moment of red-hot tension after two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches by Pyongyangwhich prompted President Donald Trump to vow “fire and fury” in response-the North said it was considering sending missiles toward Guam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hasn’t followed through, but officials insist they could have stopped the threat-and residents are just getting on with their lives. “The general populace feels like they under the protection of the US government,” says another local, Vincent Terlaje.
Residents have good reason to be calm-dozens of radars dot the tropical island’s clifftops and nearby fields, scanning for signals and potential threats. Guam hosts a sophisticated anti-missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is designed to fire interceptors into an incoming intermediate-range rocket and pulverize the target. “There is no better defended place to be than Guam,” Navy Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey boasts as he shows reporters around Andersen Air Force Base, a sprawling facility carved from the island’s dense tropical brush.
Projecting power McConnaughey is one of more than 7,000 US military personnel stationed on Guam, which juts out of the world’s deepest ocean and is part of the remote Mariana Islands chain. Though it is located some 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers) southeast of North Korea, Guam in some ways represents a front line in America’s standoff with Pyongyang. It is part of the military’s gigantic Pacific Command (PACOM), a region spanning almost half the globe.
Ever since 2004, Guam has hosted at least one of the US military’s three types of heavy bomber, part of the “continuous bomber presence” mission that enables the Pentagon to stage war games with regional alliesand which one day could be sent into action against North Korea. Officials like to talk about Guam’s importance for “projecting power” deep into the Pacific, where rivals are trying to write a narrative that Trump and his “America First” agenda mean the US no longer cares about its Pacific presence. General Joe Dunfordthe chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who recently visited the island with a group of journalists-and other US officials vehemently disagree with that assertion.The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, shaped like a jagged boomerang, is deployed here-it can carry nuclear payloads and evade radar. Officials on the base wheeled out a better known plane for Dunford’s inspection-the imposing B-52 Stratofortress, a Cold War behemoth that still forms part of America’s bomber fleet backbone. “We are the third generation to fly this plane, which is incredible,” 28-year-old Captain Joseph Trench Niez says.
GUAM: The Lucky Lady IV, a Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress deployed to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, stands on display.—