'We have made tremendous strides in meeting the needs of island communities'
The island of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau are often referred to as the jewels of the Pacific. As I say farewell to the paradise island that I have called home for the last two years, I absolutely believe this to be true. I assumed command of Joint Region Marianas in June 2021, during a time when the community was in the throes of Covid-19. While it was by no means easy or swift, together we weathered the worst health pandemic in this lifetime, and we made it through to the other side. Today, as I prepare to report to my next duty station, our community faces yet another challenge. We are picking up the pieces left in the wake of Typhoon Mawar. I have seen firsthand the dedication and hard work of our federal and local inter-agency partners and community leaders. I'm optimistic that, through continued partnerships, we will rise. We have made tremendous strides in meeting the needs of our island communities and reaching our priority objectives. Our progress, in spite of the monumental challenges, only skims the surface of what is possible when genuine and effective government-to-government collaboration is unimpeded. Together we will reach full recovery and come back stronger. The spirit of unity, community, resilience and strength make the island of Guam and this entire region so special.
Local and Regional Collaboration and Partnerships I truly believe we are all better together. This is why I have advocated for transparency and inter-agency coordination across service branches and government agencies. We are stronger when we reach past our differences to share encouragement, support, and information whenever we can. I am a firm believer in strength through unity, shared visions and a common purpose. To that end, I'm particularly proud of the work accomplished by the Civil-Military Coordination Council (CMCC). Through the CMCC we have worked to foster collaboration among the Department of Defense (DoD), the government of Guam, and federal agencies to share information, discuss, and provide recommendations for construction activities for the Marine Corps relocation to Guam. The CMCC offers an important venue for ongoing dialogue between local and federal government agencies to speak openly about the management of construction projects and the potential impact on the local community or the environment.
In today's world, very little is accomplished alone; we are more effective when we work together to achieve common goals. Your support allows us to protect the nation by training in the region, rehearsing and refining our crisis and contingency response capabilities; and posturing our forces to ensure stability and security throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Stewardship in the Protection of our Fragile Ecosystem and Cultural Resources
When I look out beyond Guam's shores, I am eager to recount the progress we have made for the people of Saipan, Tinian and Rota. We have paced our activities and construction work in the CNMI and have continuously called upon our elected leaders to guide the military's significant operational discussions and decisions. I am equally optimistic for the people of Palau and our partners in the FSM, who are working with the DoD to build or improve essential ports, runways, and infrastructure that will aid the economic development of their islands for years to come. Infrastructure improvements, defense technologies and policies are not just boxes we have checked or talking points in meetings. Each undertaking has been guided by research, subject matter expertise and necessary consultation in order to build a solid foundation and do what is right by the community and what is right for the natural and cultural environment.
I am extremely proud of our efforts and initiatives to enhance Guam's natural environment and cultural resources. We continue to maintain plant nurseries on Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz to further our protection of hundreds of endangered flora and fauna. We have dedicated millions of dollars and numerous expert personnel to the protection of endangered animal species such as the Mariana eight-spotted butterflies.
Furthermore, we have preserved the cultural resources landscape amid our unprecedented $8.7 billion construction program. Cultural protection has been prioritized by implementing preservation processes and taking proper care of any archaeological discoveries revealed as construction progresses. We gave Sabånan Fadang Memorial a place of honor on Camp Blaz to commemorate the ancient remains that have been carefully preserved on site.
I am also excited to see the continued progress of the Guam Cultural Repository in Mangilao. While this building was paid for through a federal grant, it is wholly owned and managed by the Government of Guam and will be the new home for the island's cultural resources.
Looking Ahead As the senior military official for Indo-Pacific Command in Guam, it has been my distinct honor and pleasure to look through a lens of progress and protection. "Prutehi yan Defendi I Isla'ta" has been the bedrock of our guiding principles and the bridge connecting our interests and diverse missions. Today, we are in the midst of planning for the implementation of a 360-degree Guam Defense System to ensure we can deter our adversaries and protect the island of Guam, the people of this region, and our Pacific homeland. I am confident you will see the same expert care, compassion and understanding from incoming commander Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman as the Guam Defense System is developed.
As I reflect on this tour, I am grateful my career in the Navy brought me to these beautiful communities in the Pacific. I have learned so much. Most importantly, I have learned we are all Tao Tao Tasi, people of the ocean.
Oceans have always brought freedom, economic prosperity, and opportunity. In the same way, the military mission in this region remains the same: to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Just as the ocean tides change, so do the faces of leadership in this region. I know this timing may seem difficult, but it is all in service of the deep and enduring undercurrent: the military mission of this region. With or without me, I know the military personnel in this region will step up in the service of protecting the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all citizens. I leave knowing the military personnel in this region stand behind the people of this region to protect your waters, deter aggression, and maintain freedom of the seas no matter what the tides of geopolitical change may bring.
I've been honored to serve the people of Guam, the Marianas, Micronesia and Palau, and proud of the men and women who served alongside me. I have many fond memories I will cherish.
I hold a deep fondness for this region and hope you continue to grow in resiliency, prosperity and in the spirit of Inafa' Maolek. You are in good hands with Rear Adm. Huffman, and I hope you will embrace him as kindly as you embraced me.
Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson ends his term as commander of the Joint Region Marianas this week.