ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens, 36th Wing commander, recently sat down with Tony Birtley, an Al Jazeera correspondent, to talk about what the future holds for Andersen.
Mr. Birtley: [Inaudible], an awful lot of money's going to be spent here [inaudible] used to increase your capability ten or fifteen fold. What does this all mean?
Brig. Gen. Owens: From a US national perspective, it means that we are posturing ourselves for the new century, and we are adjusting our four structures here in the Pacific to recognize realities of the geostrategic landscape that's out here, and that we are recognizing that Guam itself is a very strategic position here in the western Pacific that affords the Commander of the US Pacific Command the opportunity and the freedom of action that he needs to be able to conduct his mission in the interests of the nation. That's what it means.
Mr. Birtley: For anyone who would be considering taking any hostile action in this part of the world, what is the message to them?
Brig. Gen. Owens: I'm not sure that I would characterize it necessarily as a message to them because we are not positioning forces here necessarily in relation to any specific threat that is located out here in the Pacific. Rather, we are positioning ourselves to be able to better respond to the many realities of the world today that relate not only to the global war on terror but also to be able to posture ourselves to be able to respond to things like humanitarian crises and to be able to better respond and engage with our friends and allies that are here.
It is in that context, I think, that we are positioning ourselves appropriately here on the island of Guam.
Mr. Birtley: It's a pretty volatile area when you look at the North Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia... disputes between those countries. It must be very difficult - you need a strong capability for any eventuality there.
Brig. Gen. Owens: Clearly, we do. We need to have a strong presence here in the Pacific and the position of Guam out here in the western Pacific is the furthest western tip of US soil, and specifically Andersen Air Force base here on the north end of the island affords us a unique position out here to be able to not only project power in terms of combat power but in presence in general. That is why you see the activity ongoing here that you do.
Mr. Birtley: Some people have expressed a little bit of concern about the buildup in China, the double-digit figures of increase in spending on military hardware. They're bringing their forces to a more modern level. How much of that is a concern to the US and American military.
Brig. Gen. Owens: Clearly, we're interested in the reasons behind the buildup in China, and we want to better understand why that activity is ongoing, but again, we don't position ourselves specifically because of that buildup, but we position ourselves to be better able to respond to anything that might happen here in the western Pacific and East Asia.
Mr. Birtley: With the big massive buildup you've got going on here over the coming years, the environmental issues are coming to the forefront. Some people are not quite happy about the environmental effect. What do you do to appease these people?
Brig. Gen. Owens: We work with them. We work with them in every respect. As the Air Force went forward with its effort to get approval for the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance strike force concept that is being put here into Andersen, we partnered with all of the environmental groups, US Fish and Wildlife, and others, as we went forward to explain what we were about and how we could do this both with an eye toward increasing our capability while protecting and being sensitive to the natural resources that are located here on Guam.
The key to this is to partner with them and make sure that we are all on board together, and not to surprise them, or have them surprise us with activities that run contrary to what we want to do, so we work with them as much as you can.
Mr. Birtley: Are you happy that everything that's being done and will be done in the future will be done not to affect their way of life, their habitat here?
Brig. Gen. Owens: Well, clearly we will do everything that we can to address those issues and provide mitigation measures where it is appropriate to provide those measures. Again, we want to work to make sure the environmental impact of an increased footprint here on the island is minimal and controlled, and we also understand the importance of preserving those natural resources as well.
Mr. Birtley: Give me an idea somewhat what sort of air power will be at your disposal, the power you will have here when everything is in place and everything's finished.
Brig. Gen. Owens: Presently we have the ongoing continuous bomber presence that is located here on Andersen, and that is provided by rotational bomber units out of the continental United States that come in here basically on a quarterly basis to provide the presence options. Those numbers can be increased as necessary in the event of contingency or crises, but that baseline presence will provide us an immediate capability if it's needed.
Likewise, we'll have rotational fighter presence in here that can be called into action if required. While they're here, they will train. They will engage with our friends and allies, and, if needed, they will go forward wherever they might be tasked.
We also will have ... the Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial System will be bedded down here. This will be home to the Pacific Global Hawk effort in terms of the airframes and maintenance and operational capability. We are in preparation right now to build the first Global Hawk complex here on Andersen. That contract has already been let. This will be a - take approximately two years to build, and we look forward to have the completion of that be commensurate with the likely arrival time of our first airframes.
Between the bombers, the rotational fighters, and we might see additional fighters such as the F-22 that might well find themselves rotating through here because we will have three F-22 squadrons here in the Pacific. We might very well see them rotate through here on periodic basis and combine that with our Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capability with the Global Hawk. We will have a great capability and capacity here to support the Commander, US Pacific Command.
Mr. Birtley: You touched on this in your demonstration downstairs, but I just wanted to ask you [inaudible] one-to-one, but the benefit of Guam has been American soil. You don't have the restrictions that you would have in other countries. Could you just explain that to me on camera?
Brig. Gen. Owens: Freedom of action leads to operational flexibility here on the island of Guam, and that is absolutely essential for us to be able to respond quickly and adequately to any types of crises or anything that might arise here in the western Pacific, so we afford the Commander of US Pacific Command that tremendous operational flexibility that will allow him to do whatever he needs to do in serving the nation's interest.
Mr. Birtley: We talked a lot about power, and about aircraft, and munitions, and whatever, but also this base has a big role in humanitarian disasters. It goes to help - you help that [inaudible]. Can you explain a little bit about that to me?
Brig. Gen. Owens: We have a long history of providing humanitarian assistance. The base itself has been used as an evacuation point for things like Mt. Pinatubo when it erupted in 1991, or Kurdish refugee [inaudible]. We had several thousand of them that came through here as they were processed through here to move on to other locations.
We also have capability here where we can go out and assist. Our contingency response group is uniquely positioned here to be able to respond on very short notice to go forward and provide for airfield assessment and provide on the ground capability that can enhance and enable additional humanitarian assistance to flow into areas that need that type of assistance. So we have a long history of that that's being enhanced by additional capability here.
Mr. Birtley: [Inaudible] point you wanna mention? I was gonna use some of your demonstration, and I'll use some of the interview, but is there any other point that you wanted to make?
Brig. Gen. Owens: The only point that I'd make is one that I made downstairs, and that is that Andersen is very much a strategically located forward main operating base. We are uniquely positioned here. We have the capacity and capability to respond to just about any type of tasking that might come our way, whether it be humanitarian crisis, humanitarian assistance, or even local - to assist with local efforts here on the island. We are positioned in a great way to support the national interests.
The only other comment I would make would be relative to our Guam hosts. You mentioned this earlier, and I'll address that if I may. This is the most patriotic place that I have ever been stationed. I've been in the Air Force for 27 years, and I've been stationed all over the world. This is my fourth assignment here in the Pacific. Never have I been stationed anywhere where the sense of patriotism is any greater than it is here on the island of Guam.
There is not a family on this island that is not in some way or another has not been touched either by war or through service to the United State of America. I attended the Governor's inauguration on the 1st of January. What many people probably do not understand is as a US territory, there are 170,000 US citizens on Guam just like I am and just like members of my wing are. These people are just terrific patriots.
During that inauguration ceremony, there were four songs played. The first was the US national anthem; the second was the Guam hymn; the third was America the Beautiful; and the fourth was I'm Proud to be an American [God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood]. That's what was played at the inauguration of the Governor of Guam.
Every family that has been here for any length of time has a story, has a relative, son, daughter, father, mother, aunt, uncle that has some association with the military. Today, as we sit here, the Guam Army National Guard has approximately 140 to 150 of its soldiers on their fourth yearlong rotation in the Horn of Africa. It is an amazing testament to their patriotism and loyalty to the United States.
So they are very gracious hosts. We are very fortunate to be here, and for most of my wing, all of us sit here 7,000 miles away from our homes. I have a young grandson that is part of a military family himself. My son is a First Lieutenant navigator on B-52s stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, and as a grandfather and father, I would much rather be somewhere close by them and watch him grow up, but as with the rest of the Airmen here on Team Andersen and the sailors that are associated with us we are all very serious and patriots ourselves. We are serious about our nation's business, and that is why we are here, so we serve proudly, and we serve to do our mission, and we do it very assuredly and with great confidence.
Mr. Birtley: She was - this lady was really impressed because - I'll definitely use it in the story because she was controlling her emotion when she spoke, and she said exactly what you said, but she said it from the other side.
Brig. Gen. Owens: My secretary was five years old when the Japanese invaded. Her family was interned [inaudible]. She may be my secretary, but she's also a [inaudible] US patriot, so in my eyes she can do no wrong because she has [inaudible] and been exposed to things that even I, as an Air Force officer that's flown in combat, cannot ever, has not ever experienced, and she did it as a young child.
[Editor's Note: Mr. Birtley returns here to the subject of a woman to whom he spoke off base rather than Brig. Gen. Owens' secretary.]
Mr. Birtley: [Inaudible] controlling her emotion and I expected her to - well, first of all, she was annoyed that we were filming - we were actually filming when she arrived. I went up to her and said that I apologized and explained to her what I was doing. Then she spoke about her son. He had [inaudible]. That was the interesting thing. He'd gone back and for [inaudible] the job wasn't finished, and I wanna go back with my colleagues, and she said, "Well, you know."
I said, "Would you change anything?" She said, "No." Because - and she went back to - "They liberated us. They helped us and we'll never forget that. The time came for us to give something back." So I was quite moved by what she said and how she said it.
Brig. Gen. Owens: They're very gracious hosts, and we have a great relationship with all of them. They support us in all sorts of ways, from the Chamber of Commerce - I've got an Andersen Civilian Advisory Council that's made up of members of the Chamber that - they come up and work with us and they're terrific. All of them are.
[Transcription provided by GMR Transcription]