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Monday, April 21, 2014

Military assures of Marianas’ increasing importance
Forum brings together 200 military officials, contractors

TINIAN—U.S. Naval Forces Marianas-Joint Region Commander Rear Adm. Tilghman D. Payne and other dignitaries assured of the Marianas’ increasing importance in the ongoing “rebalancing” of forces to the Asia-Pacific region. At the same Friday forum, Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz asked for more than “transient” training exercises, including building a permanent military base on island.

Dela Cruz, however, said there is “light at the end of the tunnel” if the U.S. Air Force builds its needed “divert” or alternative airport facility on Tinian.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Air Force is not represented here today,” he said in his opening remarks. “However, I am certain that the U.S. Marine Corps officers in this room, and perhaps Admiral Payne, commander, Joint Region Marianas, will agree that building the divert facility on Tinian would greatly improve the possibility of a larger development of Tinian—as the multi-service training base it was originally planned to be.”

The “U.S. Military Contracting Forum II,” hosted by the Tinian Chamber of Commerce, brought together some 200 military and CNMI officials and contractors at the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino.

Payne spoke of rebalancing forces to the Asia-Pacific region and the increasing strategic importance of the Marianas.

In an interview later, Payne said the “important” forum helps build “communication between local community, the business community, and the U.S. military.”

“As we rebalance to the Pacific, we’re looking at some opportunities for the local businesses in the Marianas and this is a great way to establish that rapport so that both the military and the things that we need to do in the Northern Marianas benefit and the local community also benefits…” he told Saipan Tribune.

Groundwork laid out

Sen. Jim Webb of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Service and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo gave video messages at the conference on the status of the Marianas buildup.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), who traveled to Tinian for the forum, said, “As Senator Webb and Congresswoman Bordallo explained, the shift of forces to the Marianas is the U.S. plan.”

“It will not occur at the breakneck speed that some people first thought. But there will be a buildup here. The groundwork is already well laid,” he said.

Sablan said a comprehensive environmental study was completed and a Record of Decision was released in 2010.

“There was some adjustment to that this year to reflect the reduction in the number of Marines coming to the Marianas, but that adjustment does not affect Tinian. We have a Memorandum of Agreement on how to handle historic and cultural resources that may come to light. Most significantly, there is already military activity here on Tinian. And there will be more,” Sablan told the forum participants.

Sablan said that by the end of Friday’s forum, contractors will be more familiar with the contracting procedures that will allow them to work with the U.S. military.

Boris Hertslet, program manager at the Guam Procurement Technical Assistance Center, talked about the basics of contracting with the U.S. government.

Capt. John V. Heckmann Jr., commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas, along with NAVFAC Marianas small business adviser Albert Sampson, made a presentation on “military contracting” for small businesses.

Military exercises

Payne said since last spring, Tinian has been seeing—and will continue to see—military training and exercises.

They include Operation Forager Fury from Nov. 29 to around Dec. 12, with some 300 U.S. Marines stationed in Japan participating in the Tinian portion of the exercise. Guam will host some 700 Marines for the event.

Marine Air Group-12, based in Iwakuni, Japan, under the 1st Aircraft Wing of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted Operation Geiger Fury on Tinian last May. Another exercise was held on Tinian in September.

“I think what Tinian has seen is a result of our…military rebalances forces to the Pacific, the increase in the training and the exercises and taking advantage of the opportunity to come to the Marianas. And Tinian is a fabulous training place to do exercise and training. I would expect to probably maintain that, maybe not the exact same tempo, but more and more people coming here as we bring more forces out to the Pacific,” Payne added.

He said geographically, “Tinian has always been critical.”

Two-thirds of Tinian lands are leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.

During World War II, Tinian had the busiest airfield in the world. It was the launching pad of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, putting a decisive end to the war.

Divert airfield

However, the Tinian mayor said in his forum remarks that when island residents voted for the creation of the Commonwealth in 1975, “including giving up two-thirds of their island to the Department of Defense, it was only because they believed that a vote for the Covenant was a vote for a military base that would provide Tinian with a long-term, stable economy.”

“It is now near the end of 2012 and still there is no permanent base for any American military unit on Tinian,” Dela Cruz said.

Toward the end of his remarks, the mayor asked that military officials in the room to discuss with U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. John W Doucette to “make use of their long-term interests in training on Tinian.”

Dela Cruz also hoped that re-elected President Barack Obama and the Defense secretary “will agree that spending a few dollars more on the construction of the divert facility on Tinian will be in the long-term best interest” of the United States and the CNMI.

“Or at least build the tactical portion of the divert base on Tinian, which has already proven it can handle hot refueling operations for F-18s, thanks to Geiger Fury,” he said.

He added that the development of an aircraft refueling system on Tinian would complete the development of the Tinian West Field International Airport that would facilitate direct commercial flights from Asia to Tinian.

Tinian has the only operating casino in the CNMI.

“Tinian would become to Saipan, what the Big Island is to Oahu. And it would provide for the hotel rooms and restaurants the Air Force holds so near and dear to its personnel,” Dela Cruz said, adding that Tinian remains to be full and active partner with the U.S. military.

What Chamber asked

Sablan cited some things that the Tinian Chamber of Commerce has asked about the buildup from the business point of view.

One of those is the possibility of getting congressional directed spending or “earmarks” to pay for specific projects on Tinian but he said the Republicans in Congress made a “no earmarks rule.”

Sablan said the Defense Access Road Program, meanwhile, has averaged only about $20 million annually since 1957 and Tinian faces tough competition getting a share of the pie.

But the re-elected delegate said there is plenty of opportunity for federally financed road building in the CNMI.

He said data from the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Policy and Governmental Affairs shows that from 2006 to 2012, the CNMI has received a total of $37.6 million for roadwork.

But Sablan said of this amount, as of September 30th, the CNMI has only expended, or paid out, $8.6 million.

“That means we have about $29 million in road money that Congress has already appropriated. Contractors should be clamoring for our local government to start spending those funds. In addition to reducing the wear and tear on people’s cars, that $29 million could be creating jobs, and enhancing our tourism economy by making it easier for our guests to get around,” he said.

Lt. Col. Aisha Bakkar, public affairs officer for the U.S. Marine Corps in Guam, made a presentation on “Tinian Marines: United—Past, Present and Future,” while Brandy Untalan of GSA, Federal Acquisition Service Asia Pacific region presented on “doing business with the General Services Administration.”

There were also presentations on the Small Business Development Center services, Military Integration Office, rural development funding opportunities, opportunities to sell goods and services to the Defense Logistics Agency, and procurement fraud.

Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian), chairman of the Tinian Legislative Delegation, made the closing remarks.

Phillip Mendiola-Long, president of the 120-member strong Tinian Chamber of Commerce, served as master of ceremony.

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