By Dana Williams
Although the military is asking for comments on a proposed missile defense system for Guam, questions were raised at a legislative town hall meeting Monday night about whether the public has enough information to offer opinions.
Some residents questioned whether their opinions would even be considered by the military.
Former congressional Del. Robert Underwood, who is now chairman of the Pacific Center for Island Security, said the missile defense system “and all that will come with it will be a critical reordering of our lives here in Guam. To put it differently, this is a paradigm-shifting project that will affect each and every one of us who call this island home.”
A map provided by the military outlines the 20 potential sites for parts of the 360-degree missile defense system, which will involve a command-and-control center, missile launchers, interceptors, radars and sensors. The goal is to defend the island against cruise, ballistic and hypersonic missile attacks.
“Yet transparency is lacking. Honest and serious deliberation of (the missile system) requires us not only to know the bigger picture, but also some of the details,” Underwood said. “However, because the missile defense system has not disclosed what it wants to put on the 20 candidate sites, all that is being asked of our community is not clear.”
Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Adm. Gregory C. Huffman was not able to attend the meeting, but he provided Speaker Therese Terlaje with a letter explaining that the military is preparing an environmental impact statement to evaluate potential impacts of a “system to defend Guam against rapidly evolving advanced missile threats from regional adversaries.”
Last month, the Senate released an executive summary of the 2024 defense spending bill that mentioned a briefing on the potential use of nuclear microreactors on Guam.
In his letter, Huffman said the missile defense project “is not considering nuclear microreactors as a power source.”
As government of Guam agency officials and residents testified before senators, members of the audience held signs saying “We are not the tip of the spear,” “Stop making us a target for war,” “No more desecration” and “Genuine security now.”
Lawmakers were concerned that a timeline for the project was already issued and contracting notices already published, despite the project being in the scoping period. The timeline calls for initial capability integration and testing in 2025, and system activation by 2027.
Monaeka Flores of the group Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, testified that many of the concerns raised during the construction of Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz and the firing range at Ritdian are also raised by the missile defense plan.
“It’s going to make us more vulnerable, when we’re already so vulnerable,” she said. “The message from this administration and from all leaders should be that peace and diplomacy should be a priority. Those conversations are not happening.”
Flores urged senators to look at possible legislation limiting nuclear power generation on the island and to “prohibit and restrict that for the future of Guam.”
Kallen Perez, a former Prutehi Litekyan volunteer, said the town hall meetings were held and comments were submitted on previous military projects, but “their projects just steam ahead.”
“It’s very easy to feel powerless, but I don’t think we are powerless,” Sen. Chris Barnett said. He said Guam’s elected officials need to work together and speak in unison.
“When we stand together, we become powerful,” he said. Terlaje said the “facts that we do know, those alone are alarming.”
“I don’t want to see another situation where our community went all out, putting in comments, educating each other, but the deals were actually made by other individuals, and they were not what the community was advocating for,” Terlaje said.