Guam res­i­dents con­cerned but have faith in U.S. mil­i­tary,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Grace Garces Bordallo and Au­drey McAvoy

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.

NANCY BOROWICK / NEW YORK TIMES

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.

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