It's official: The Navy has signed off on a plan to move 5,000 Marines and 1,300 family members from Okinawa, Japan, to the island of Guam.
The Navy Department released its Record of Decision Aug. 29 for relocating the Marines and their family members to the U.S. territory in the western Pacific.
It's a smaller force than what the Marine Corps first proposed in 2009 when it wanted to send 8,600 Marines, 9,000 dependents and 1,900 government workers to Guam by 2020. That would have put a full brigade-size force on the island.
That idea prompted public outcry in Guam and congressional criticism over the cost for new bases and infrastructure on the modestly populated island. In 2010, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., even went so far as to ask the head of U.S. Pacific Command at the time whether adding that many troops to the small territory would cause the island to tip over.
After additional studies and reviews, the plans were scaled back and Japan's government pledged to shoulder part of the cost.
The moves are part of a larger rebalancing of forces in the Western Pacific that will bolster air defenses and aviation capacity and add a wharf for visiting Navy aircraft carriers on Guam.
The Marine Corps plans to base infantry headquarters, aviation squadrons and logistics support units on Guam. Marines train there routinely now, and the move will reduce the military presence on Okinawa, which some Japanese view as burdensome.
“The Marine Corps has a historic friendship with the people of Guam,” Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey, the Corps' deputy commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, said in an Aug. 29 announcement. “We look forward to continuing that partnership.”
What you need to know about the future force in Guam.
Who's going and when. Of the 5,000 Marines to live and train in Guam, only one-third of them will be there on permanent orders. That will mostly consist of three-year, family-accompanied tours starting in 2020.
The other 3,300 or so Marines who head to Guam each year will arrive on six-month unit deployment rotations and use equipment and vehicles already in Guam. Those units will stagger so they don't all show up at the same time, similar to the way Marines currently rotate through Japan on the unit deployment program.
The number of Marines and dependents based in Guam will increase each year through 2026, when the Corps reaches its goal of basing 5,000 Marines and 1,300 family members there. The biggest spike will occur between 2019 and 2020, when the total number of Marines based in Guam will jump from 387 to 2,990.
Over the next several years, the Corps will boost the number of Marines based there by 300 to 900 annually.
Slowed growth. That 13-year buildup is far slower than the original call to move thousands of Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam in just five years.
The Navy's new plan also curbs plans for more land acquisition and construction projects. Now Marines will live and train on land already controlled by the military.
"This decision adopts all of the mitigation measures that were identified ... to avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts," the Navy decision states.
Housing. Marine families will be able to live in housing at Andersen Air Force Base, where about 510 acres will be set aside for construction of as many as 553 housing units.
Other construction will include housing for bachelors and other facilities in the nearby planned cantonment area covering 1,751 acres at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications site in the Finegayan area on the north side of Guam.
Overall, the Marine Corps will have a smaller footprint than the 2,500-acre base first envisioned for the island.
Training grounds. Marines will access the 338-acre live-fire training range complex that will be built at Andersen's Northwest Field. They'll also have access to a hand-grenade range planned for Andersen South.
Additional studies will sort out access to historic sites within the range complex, which will include 3,701 acres for surface danger zones. Another 5,324 acres of federal land in the north will be protected for wildlife habitat.
Next steps. Defense Department officials will now draft construction plans for military facilities and to expand road networks and local infrastructure. But not much will happen without Congress coughing up money, something members have been hesitant to do without more concrete plans.