Guam’s Ongoing Transition From Sleepy Island Outpost to Frontline Firebase

Guam’s Ongoing Transition From Sleepy Island Outpost to Frontline Firebase

Fears of a future confrontation with China over the South China Sea have exponentially increased activity levels at previously sleepy military installations.

The Air Force recently sent a detachment of long-rage B-1 and B-52 bombers to Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base. The B-52s flew 28 hours nonstop from Louisiana to reach their new home. Officials described the B-1 redeployment as “routine.” However, the press release also referenced a 2016 international rejection of China’s sovereignty claims over the South China Sea. The B-1s will work with the Reagan and Nimitz aircraft carrier strikes groups, which are operating in the region.

These new arrivals will participate in a huge trilateral training exercise over the next few months. The Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy have already sent sizable forces to Guam, and more are on the way. “The opportunity to work alongside the U.S. and Japanese is invaluable,” said Commodore Michael Harris, commander of the Guam Australian Joint Task Group. “Maintaining security and safety at sea requires navies to be able to cooperate seamlessly. The combined tasking between our navies demonstrates a high degree of interoperability and compatibility between Australia, the U.S., and Japan.”

In a related development, a conglomerate of Hawaiian and Guamese architecture firms just inked a $100 million deal to renovate and expand Guam’s physical military facilities.

Guam’s Strategic Significance

The United States acquired Guam over a hundred years ago, at the end of the brief Spanish-American War. For much of this time, Guam has been little more than a dot in the South Pacific that most people would have trouble finding on a map. Rising tensions in East Asia have changed that.

Since the end of the Cold War, rogue nation and suspected nuclear power North Korea has been the primary threat to peace and stability in this area. Japan and South Korea are two of the most populous and stable democracies in the Eastern Hemisphere. These nations also have rather small military forces, so they are almost completely dependent on the United States for security.

Recently, China has replaced North Korea as the potential bully on the block, mostly because of the ongoing dispute over the South China Sea. Japan and South Korea get most of their oil from the Middle East, and almost every one of these tankers comes through the South China Sea. The SCS has abundant natural resources of its own. There are large, untapped oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor. Additionally, the South China Sea’s many small islands make it ideal for commercial fishing.

Until about 2015, South Korea and Japan were the primary U.S. military installations in this area. But thawing tensions between North and South Korea have many people questioning the need for U.S. forces there. On the other side of the Sea of Japan, American forces which arrived in 1945 have essentially worn out their welcome.

Guam is over 2,000 miles from the South China Sea. But in the world of modern aviation and communications, that is not very far. Additionally, Guam has a relatively small civilian population and is firmly in American hands. All these features make Guam an ideal place for a military buildup.

Contractor Roles in Guam

The new arrival of men and materiel in Guam creates a heavy demand for private military contractors who do not carry guns themselves.

Guam’s physical facilities badly need updates. Barracks, mess halls, entertainment venues, and other places designed to serve the needs of a few hundred troops now must serve a few thousand servicemembers. Aircraft facilities need work, as well. To accommodate strategic bombers and other such aircraft, hangars must be expanded and runways must be lengthened.

Stateside engineers usually draw up the plans for these projects. But these professionals do not have boots on the ground. There is a big difference between expanding a runway in Greensboro and doing the same thing in Guam.

Private contractors, who are mostly construction supervisors, step in here. These professionals know how to translate sketches on a drawing board to actual facilities on the ground. They know what resources are required, including human resources.

Regular servicemembers do not have the necessary qualifications in this area. Only private military contractors, who probably did the same thing in other far-flung corners of the world, have the needed expertise.

The same thing applies to maintaining high-tech weapons. With every new generation of gadget, the maintenance approach changes. Only contractors have the required flexibility.

Injury Compensation Available

For the most part, private contractors are highly-compensated individuals. These people have no current or future benefits, like health insurance or a retirement plan. So, cash is their only compensation. Additionally, many families are almost entirely dependent on contractor wages. As a result, a sudden injury could be financially devastating.

Since 1941, the Defense Base Act has provided wage replacement benefits to several generations of injured contractors. The wage replacement usually falls into one of four categories:

  • Permanent Total Disability: Generally, people are disabled if they are unable to find and maintain substantial gainful employment. Since these victims no longer have any earning power, the financial compensation for a PTD illness or injury is often quite high.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: Partially-disabled victims are usually still able to function in a non-work setting, but substantial gainful employment is probably out of the question. Therefore, PPD wage replacement is usually not quite as high as PTD wage replacement, largely depending on the nature and severity of the disability.
  • Temporary Total Disability: Most injured victims have TTD injuries. They cannot work while they recover. In these cases, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the temporary disability.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: As they recover, many TTD victims move into the TPD category. These individuals can work, but their physical or other limitations restrict their hours or job duties. So, the DBA pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new incomes, in most cases.

Average Weekly Wage calculation is sometimes more art than science. As mentioned, there is a big difference in salary between a stateside truck driver and a truck driver in Guam. Additionally, the AWW also includes any noncash compensation, such as housing allowance or tuition reimbursement.

For more information about medical bill payment and other DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.