Military size on Guam quietly grows ahead of the Marines’ influx
DoD sector accounts for 14% of the island’s population
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
In 2008, local residents took to the streets when the U.S. Navy announced the proposed relocation of 8,600 Marines and approximately 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam as part of the 2006 U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment.
In a rare moment of unity across multiple sectors, the Guam community stood up to the military, reminding Navy officials of the island’s limited capacity to accommodate a large addition to its population. Local infrastructures, housing facilities, power and water supply and other basic utilities were not adequate enough even for the size of the existing population.
The community protest, accompanied by lawsuits, eventually prompted the Department of Defense to revise the relocation plan in 2010. The amended Defense Policy Review Initiative scaled down the size of troop arrivals to 5,000 Marines and 1,300 dependents.
The Marines’ relocation has yet to begin in 2025, but the military population on Guam has already exploded over the years, driven by the growing threats in the region.
“By the early 2000s, the military presence in Guam was only about 2,500 uniformed service members,” according to Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, commander of the Joint Region Marianas. “It was also about this time we started to see the People’s Republic of China, led by the Chinese Communist Party, challenge international norms and peace in the region.”
The U.S. military responded by augmenting its power on Guam, Nicholson said.
The Navy currently has five fast-attack submarines homeported in Guam and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery on Andersen Air Force Base.
“Today, there are approximately 9,700 service members on Guam,” Nicholson said, addressing the Pacific Judicial Conference at the Dusit Thani Resort on Sept. 20.
According to the 2020 census, there were 21,700 service members and dependents on Guam, accounting for 14 percent of the island’s population of 153,836.
“As we are all aware, Guam’s role in U.S. national defense has changed over the years. After the drawdown of American service members on Guam following World War II, there was a very large presence here throughout the Cold War,” Nicholson said. “At its height, there were about 26,000 uniformed service members here on Guam. Even when the Marines arrive in a few years, the military population will still be significantly lower than it was in the 1970s and 80s.”
Guam is a lynchpin of U.S. power in the Indo-Pacific region, a priority theater for the Pentagon.
“Our missile defense capabilities on the island are expanding to also better protect the entire island and population,” Nicholson said.
The military buildup on Guam has a price tag of $13 billion, of which Japan agreed to shoulder $3 billion. One of the largest projects is the construction of the Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz in Dededo. The Department of Defense has so far invested $2.5 billion in Camp Blaz, which will host the Marines who will be relocated from Okinawa.
Camp Blaz, which partially opened in 2020, was the first Marine Corps facility to be built since the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany was commissioned on March 1, 1952.
Albert Borja, environmental director for the Marine Corps Activity Guam, said the clearing phase for the project sites on the future Marine base is almost complete, paving the way for the ensuing vertical constructions.
“The final operating capability is projected to be completed by 2029— that’s what’s in our schedule,” Borja said.
Ongoing projects on base include the construction of barracks, the main gate, the headquarters building, as well as police and fire stations, among others.
“The base does not have to be fully complete to accommodate the first force flow,” Borja said. “But the basic functions need to be in place before the Marines come to Guam. The program is moving toward the progress of construction so that these facilities can be prepared ahead of the Marines; arrival.”
Camp Blaz is the third military installation on Guam, along with Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam.
Ronnie Rogers, cultural resource manager at Camp Blaz, assured the community that the military buildup is confined to the Navy’s footprint. The U.S. military owns about 49,000 acres of land on Guam, roughly a third of the island. “No additional land has been acquired— no land has been acquired, to begin with,” Rogers said.
The influx of Marines to Guam will take place gradually, according to Dianne Rosenfeld, public affairs officer for Camp Blaz. “I don’t think we have a number of how many Marines are coming at once but it should be a steady increase,” she said. “We will see them flow in, especially as certain jobs are needed and certain augmentations within certain offices are needed.”
Beyond Guam, the military is shoring up existing infrastructure in other islands rather than building up more bases.
“This allows agility and the ability to move forces when and where they are needed, Nicholson said.
“As construction continues on Camp Blaz, Guam will once again become a significant staging point for our armed forces. Our presence here, and the relationships we are actively building upon, are the key to the stability of the entire Indo-Pacific.”