The formerly sleepy and isolated Pacific outpost has become a potential forward operating base in a future conflict with China. So, the DoD feels the island’s largest airbase must be up to the challenge.
Much of the work includes hangers and other air installations designed to service drones, tankers, and other long-range aircraft. One such facility, a Tanker General Purpose Maintenance Hangar, accommodates tankers and transport aircraft. Nearby, work is underway on a service hanger and a Marine barracks expansion. Officials say the buildup is necessary not only because of the potential for Chinese aggression, but also because of Phillipne President Rodrigo Duarte’s threats to limit U.S. access to Filipino territory.
“Bottom line: U.S. build-up in Guam signals U.S. commitment to remain an active player in the [western Pacific],” said Air Force spokesperson Master Sgt. Richard Ebensberger.
Guam: A Closer Look
Islands in the Central Pacific are a bit like planets in the Solar System. They are few and far between. True, Guam is slightly less isolated than the moon, but at least people know where the moon is located. Many Americans would have trouble finding Guam on a map.
In 1898, America acquired this island following the brief Spanish-American War. In a series of decisions called the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court ruled that the people on Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and other territories were essentially second-class citizens. The Insular Cases had significant implications in the subsequent civil rights struggle. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes, they also have implications for Defense Base Act coverage. More on that below.
A few days after Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese occupied Guam. American forces liberated the island in 1944, but not before the Japanese allegedly committed a number of atrocities against Guamian civilians.
Later, Andersen Air Force Base was home to the 36th Bomber Group during the Vietnam War. These birds were mostly long-range B-52 bombers. Supposedly, the Air Force stored Agent Orange on Andersen as well, an allegation that the DoD denies despite evidence of this dangerous defoliant in soil samples.
The Vietnam War ended over 40 years ago and a war against China might never come. Nevertheless, Guam is still on the front line.
South China Sea: A Global Hotspot?
Guam is about 1,500 miles from the Philippines. That sounds like a long way, but in terms of Pacific Ocean distances, it is not terribly far.
The Philippines is just one nation which lays claim to at least part of the South China Sea. Largely because of the Strait of Malacca in Indonesia, a majority of China’s, Japan’s, and South Korea’s oil comes through the South China Sea. So, China has long sought to dominate this area. Furthermore, the Philippines and Japan hem in China’s east coast. China’s south coast, on the other hand, offers unfettered access to open waters, via the South China Sea.
The South China Sea also has abundant natural resources. The seabed contains considerable supplies of crude oil and natural gas. The SCS has excellent fishing, as well, making it a source of food security for many East Asians.
Chinese sovereignty claims date back to about 1,000 B.C. and the Western Zhou dynasty. Supposedly, the locals paid a tribute of sea turtles to the Chinese emperors.
About 250 islands and island groups dot the SCS. These land masses have sparked conflict in the past. In the 1970s and again in the 1980s, China and Vietnam exchanged blows over the strategic Spratly Islands in the central SCS.
In 2016, an international arbiter ruled that China had no broad, historic claim to the SCS and that this body of water was in international waters. A number of countries, including China, protested this ruling. So, military buildups and territorial disputes continue. U.S.-China tensions are not as strong now as they were in the late 2010s, but that could change at any time.
Contractors in Guam
The fluid international situation is one reason contractors are so important in Guam. The government has no financial investment beyond the current contract, which usually lasts a few months. If the government expanded the Corps of Engineers or another official body to expand the airbase, the financial commitment would be huge.
Additionally, most contractor assignments are under the radar. Indeed, the DoD routinely refuses to disclose the number of contractors in international hotspots, citing a need for operational security. So, there is little or no public outcry.
Many contractors in Guam are construction contractors. Generally, stateside organizations plan these projects, contractors serve as on-site supervisors, and locals perform much of the labor. Since the locals have an economic investment in the project, disruptions and protests are often minimal.
Security is often at a premium at such construction sites. That’s usually not true in Guam, but it is definitely true in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Generally, this security is much more than a perimeter fence and a few cameras. Armed contractors usually protect these sites and the people who work there.
Many of the weapons on Guam are drones, stealth airplanes, and other high-tech devices. It takes a special breed of contractors to maintain these weapons. Frequently, regular servicemember mechanics lack the requisite skills. It is much cheaper for the government to hire contractors than it is to retrain other people.
Finally, large ships transport almost all the goods that come onto Guam or move off it. Experienced longshoremen need to handle the loading and unloading. That means private contractors, in most cases.
All these jobs are quite dangerous, especially since medical care in remote places like Guam is rather limited. And, although it is a U.S. territory, Guam qualifies as an “overseas territory” for Defense Base Act compensation purposes.
Most compensation claims begin with supervisor notification. Injured victims must immediately notify their supervisors about any work-related illness or injury. If you are not sure if your illness or injury was work-related, it is usually best to file a claim anyway. You can withdraw it later, and it is illegal to discriminate against people who file workers’ compensation claims.
Later, there is a settlement conference which involves the victim’s attorney, an insurance company attorney, and a mediator. The mediator reviews the medical records and tries to work a settlement between the victim and insurance company. In some cases, these settlement conferences are successful. But most claims move to the next level, which is a hearing before and administrative law judge.
ALJ hearings are a lot like trials. Attorneys can make legal arguments, present evidence, and challenge evidence. Even though DBA claims are no-fault claims, the more evidence the victim presents, the easier it is to obtain fair compensation.
Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about DBA benefits.