The head of a congressional delegation said yesterday he supports the long-term deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system on Guam.
“We wanna make sure that, strategically, we have all the right assets here on Guam to protect Guam from whatever ballistic missile threats that are out there,” Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, said after separate meetings yesterday with Gov. Eddie Calvo and Guam senators.
The delegation had a briefing on the THAAD missile defense system that the Pentagon sent here in April from Fort Bliss, Texas, with about 100 personnel.
Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo has sought the permanent deployment of the truck-mounted missile defense system on Guam after North Korea made threats in March and April last year mentioning Guam as a potential missile attack target.
The Pentagon said in April that the THAAD deployment was initially planned for only 90 days because of a lack of other fully operating THAAD systems for the rest of the nation.
Wittman, Bordallo and Texas Rep. Bill Flores and congressional staff members arrived Monday night from Hawaii as part of an Asia-Pacific trip that also includes Okinawa.
Local senators held a closed-door meeting with the congressional delegation in Speaker Judith Won Pat’s office — with both sides saying it was a cordial meeting.
It’s a departure from the meeting on Guam a few years ago, in which visiting U.S. senators left with the impression that local senators were opposed to the military’s expansion plans on Guam, Pacific Daily News files show.
“It’s been a very, very constructive conversation. It’s good for us to come here in person to understand and ensure that as we make those decisions in Washington, and as we communicate with the folks in the Pentagon, that they understand, too, what the local concerns are,” Wittman said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to capture that if you don’t actually come to Guam to make sure we understand it. So it’s been a great (meeting) both with the governor and the Legislature to get what we call a base understanding of what needs to happen.”
Speaker Judith Won Pat said Wittman comes from a community that hosts a Marine base and can relate to Guam’s concerns about infrastructure issues as a host of military facilities.
“We definitely came away with a very good feeling ... He said it has to definitely benefit not just the military, but it also has to consider the community’s needs,” according to Won Pat.
Won Pat said local lawmakers gave the congressional delegation a copy of the “fifth pillar” that local officials want addressed in consideration for Guam as host to an expanded military presence.
“We went ahead and gave (Wittman) a copy of the four pillars and how the Legislature passed a resolution indicating a fifth pillar ... so they walked away with that information, but overall that it was a very good meeting,” Won Pat said.
The local Legislature’s idea of a “fifth pillar” came up in 2011 after the Defense Department promised to approach the military expansions on Guam using a four-pillar approach.
The fifth pillar that local lawmakers asked for in March 2011 included war reparations, a visa waiver program and more federal funding for regional immigrants who move to Guam, among other requests.
In January 2011 , Navy Undersecretary Robert Work promised the following “four pillars” would be prioritized by the Department of Defense as the military buildup on Guam progresses.
■ The military will commit to improve quality of life for all island residents.
■ The military will work with a great emphasis on protecting Guam’s environment.
■ A firing range off the east edge of Route 15 will not affect access to the culturally relevant Pågat, so the area will be accessible all day, every day.
■ Smaller footprint: The federal government will control fewer acres of Guam land by the “end” of the buildup projects.