Guam residents concerned but have faith in U.S. military,
The tiny HAGATNA, GUAM — U.S. territory of Guam feels a strong sense of patriotism and confidence in the American military, which has an enormous presence on the Pacific island. But residents are increasingly worried over Washington’s escalating war of words with North Korea.
The people of Guam woke up Thursday to another pointed threat from Pyongyang, which vowed to complete a plan to attack waters near the island by mid-August — adding a timeline to a threat from a day earlier that North Korea would create an “enveloping fire” around Guam.
Like other U.S. territories, Guam has a sometimes complicated relationship with the U.S. mainland but many across the island say that despite the threats and concerns they feel reassured and protected by the military — especially in times of tense, geopolitical sparring.
About 160,000 people live on the island, which extends about 12 miles at its widest. The American military presence on Guam consists of two bases — Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south — which are home to 7,000 U.S. troops.
“I feel that the presence of the military on Guam will help us a lot,” said Virgie Matson, 51, a resident of Dededo, Guam’s most populated village. “They are here to protect the islands, just in case something happens.”
The possibility of a nuclear confrontation is considered remote but international alarm has been escalating in recent days. In the latest development, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, who heads North Korea’s rocket command, said in a statement carried by state media that his country was “about to take” military action near Guam. He said the North would finalize a plan by mid-August to fire four mid-range missiles hitting waters as close as 20 miles from the island.
It’s not the first time North Korea has threatened Guam, which is a strategic hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Andersen Air Force Base houses a Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers that rotate to Guam from the U.S. mainland, including B-2 stealth bombers, B-1s and B-52s. They are just hours from potential flashpoints across the western Pacific.
Naval Base Guam is an important outpost for U.S. fast-attack nuclear powered submarines that are a key means for gathering intelligence in the region.
The U.S. military has said it plans to increase its presence on Guam and will move thousands of U.S. Marines currently stationed in Japan to the island between 2024 and 2028.
“I’m pro-military buildup,” said resident Gus Aflague, 60, whose grandfather and brother both joined the U.S. Navy.
Children are pulled on a barrel train through a market in Hagatna, Guam, in late June. North Korea has threatened to create an “enveloping fire” around the U.S. territory and military outpost.