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War on gobbledygook

From the Publisher's Desk By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Do you know how the soon-to-be built Guam missile defense architecture will function to protect the island from any potential missile attack?

According to Vice Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency, the system will have “TPY-6s” tied to the Aegis system.

Based on the transcript of Hill’s briefing with reporters in the Pentagon, this is how the Guam missile defense system works:

“You have the Army's IBCS system that'll use LTAMDS radars and Sentinel radars, right? So those will fill in gaps for cruise missiles and for hypersonics. And then we tie that together in a command suite that is brought together on a C2BMC screen so that the commander has the ability to understand that total battle from what we're seeing coming in from space, which are your ballistic tracks or your hypersonic tracks, so that when we pick up cruise missile tracks over an LTAMDS, we can make sure that those are being seen and deconflicted by the other parts of the system."

The MDA also has its first two “HBTSSs” set up on Guam to take live data and “characterize them in space," the vice admiral further explained.

If you’re not a military person and you didn’t get the picture, you’re not alone. To most of us, what the vice admiral said probably sounds like this: @#$%&*002j5c3452-*7&)0!@#$;.


The military is notorious for using an obscure alien language from outer space, leaving us ordinary human beings scratching our heads.

Perhaps, we may not have to force ourselves to try to comprehend the acronym-riddled technical and mechanical aspects of the missile defense system. After all, that’s for experts to deal with. But when a proposal is likely to affect the community, it is not unreasonable to demand that the military drop obscurantism.

In 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gathered local officials and community stakeholders to discuss plans for the development of a new hospital. Army officials mentioned the word “charette” at least a hundred times. It was clearly creating gaps in the conversation until one of the meeting participants took the courage to ask, “What in the world is 'charette?'”

Guam residents may have the opportunity to comment on military buildup-related projects proposed by the U.S. Navy, but how well do they understand military documents?


Maybe not much or not at all, according to Patrick Lujan, Guam’s state historic preservation officer.

The Navy’s proposed projects are presented to the public through Programmatic Agreement memos that are filled with acronyms, codes, military jargon and technocratic phrases— the equivalent of “fine prints” in a legal contract or several pages of terms of agreement that people subscribing to online apps are too impatient to read.

The Programmatic Agreement was signed between the Navy and Guam in 2011 to ensure that historic properties are taken into account in the military’s project planning and execution.


According to the Navy’s document, “The 2011 PA states that in the course of supplemental reviews pursuant to Stipulations IV and V, the signatories and invited signatories may request that additional project-specific APEs be defined consistent with 36 CFR §800.16(d) to address potential direct and indirect effects of individual projects.”

“In general, the PA memo for the public provided is jargon-heavy, which may negatively impact public comprehension and engagement with the notification and consultation process,” Lujan wrote in a July 21, 2021, letter to Jeffery Laitila of NAVFAC Marianas U.S. Naval Base Guam.

Lujan suggested that PA memos be written in a manner easier to digest. “For example, it may be useful to define terms like ‘CFR’, ‘vertical construction’, ‘mitigation’, ‘qualifying characteristics’, and ‘site integrity,’ as these terms may not be immediately understood by individuals outside the field of cultural resources management,” he said. “This would directly improve transparency and public comprehension, and help to combat any misinformation that may surround the projects.”


Transparency does not only involve public meetings and consultations. It requires clear communication of agendas.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010, which was signed into federal law on Oct. 13, 2010, “calls for writing that is clear, concise, and well-organized” and “avoids jargon, redundancy, ambiguity and obscurity.”

In an executive memo issued on April 13, 2011, then-President Barack Obama noted the value of clear and simple communication. “Avoiding vagueness and unnecessary complexity makes it easier for members of the public to understand and to apply for important benefits and services for which they are eligible,” the memo read.

“Plain writing can also assist the public in complying with applicable requirements simply because people better understand what they are supposed to do. Plain writing is thus more than just a formal requirement; it can be essential to the successful achievement of legislative and administrative goals, and it also promotes the rule of law," the memo said.

So there, let’s talk like normal human beings— in plain English.

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