‘Rick’s Column’

 Pivoting from the Final PA


This week we are moving away from discussing the Final Programmatic Agreement in detail, to talk about some recent personnel announcements at Joint Region Marianas (JRM) and at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquarters. This topic will be followed by a brief discussion on the economic power and influence that the Pentagon has in the Marianas and its relative size as one of America’s largest employers.

One admiral leaving, another one coming

Rear Adm. Menoni is now getting ready to move on in his military career, ordered to the eastern U.S. seaboard to take charge of an organization that has 1) had previous problems with a past admiral’s ability to lead, and 2) has as its purpose the ability to deliver mobile and ready to fight packages of surface ships, submarines, and aircraft that covers the eastern U.S. and north Atlantic regions.

Several admirals who held the position that Menoni currently holds at Joint Region Marianas, have gone on to attain a second, third, and on occasion, a fourth star. The job position of COMNAVMAR has historically been filled by folks who have backgrounds in naval aviation or submarine/undersea warfare, and who have previously served in Guam or in the greater Pacific.

Leadership changes in Hawaii

The change with senior military leadership in Guam is part of a larger effort undertaken by the Department of Defense to retire, reassign and/or promote leaders who have jobs that include and involve Guam and the Marianas in their portfolio of responsibilities.

For example, the current head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. John Aquilino, will become the next leader of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, replacing Adm. Phil Davidson, subject to U.S. Senate confirmation. This change points to one noteworthy element and that is the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has always been a navy-controlled jewel. The air force, army and Marines have never had the opportunity to see their general officers selected to run this highly visible and highly complex organization, which literally oversees a large portion of the planet. The navy continues to have tight control of running U.S. Indo-Pacific Command because most of the areas covered by this organization cover much of the Pacific Ocean.

Yet a case can be made that the air force also has a huge part of ensuring that this organization keeps working properly. Only time will tell if another member of the military outside of the navy will run this organization. I suspect one day an air force officer will become head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, but it won’t be without heavy resistance from the navy.

What this means for the Marianas

The leadership changes made by the military reflect a longstanding organizational construct that tends to bring in new people every two, three or four years. The flip side of this reality is that the overall policy constructs extended and executed in Guam, the Marianas, and the region really don’t change all that much.

The next admiral coming to Guam will, like the ones before, walk into a deeply entrenched and organized bureaucratic support organization, staffed by local employees, uniformed and non-uniformed people from off-island and contractors of all types.

This constant movement of people in and out of Guam and the Northern Marianas has many consequences both good and bad. People constantly moving in creates ongoing pressures for housing that have resulted in continual upticks in the cost of housing up to this day. The consequence of these upward pricing pressures is that it creates additional stress for many Chamorros who must continually pay more for housing, furthering the conditions that limit housing options, displace families, or create poverty traps that are difficult to get out of.

A second consequence of having ongoing high demand for housing for military personnel is it gives landlords the ability to continually implement price increases for their property rentals. Property owners are also incentivized to lease to military personnel and other U.S. government employees because they know that the money coming in is almost guaranteed, because it is part of the financial stipend package afforded to those national government employees assigned to Guam and the Northern Marianas.

This kind of purchasing power continually advantages the military housed off base who are also receiving cost of living adjustment funds and additional cash to offset relatively high utility bills such as power and water. Those villagers who find themselves among the unemployed, underemployed, or full-time working poor don’t get these kinds of guaranteed financial perks and cushions, placing them in situations where it becomes difficult or very difficult to attain real and substantial quality of life improvements.

America’s largest employer and polluter

Some Chamorros may not realize this, but the Department of Defense is the single largest employer found within the American imperial landscape. It has over three million people on the military, civilian, guard, and reserve payrolls and each year the department receives over $700 billion in cash approved by the Congress and signed by the President. The Pentagon also hires scores of for-profit contracting and subcontracting companies that perform some the most sensitive, consequential, and expensive activities that range from major military weapons production of aircraft, satellites, tanks, and submarines, to service providers who focus on information technology systems integration or intelligence and cyber-security support.

The Pentagon is also home to the largest cadre of lawyers in the United States who number close to 10,000 in total, working around the world, around the clock, and headquartered out of Washington, D.C. The military health care system supporting both the active duty and retired military populations is also one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States based on total appropriated dollars coming from Congress and the numbers of people enrolled.

But unfortunately, the military is also one of the largest polluters in the United States and the world. Just ask former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Rick Arriola Perez | Author
Rick Arriola Perez is a U.S. military veteran who has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Bank of Hawaii, and the government of Guam. He holds several degrees including ones from UCLA and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Rick is passionate about national security and foreign affairs in the Pacific Asia region and runs a blogsite called Guam Affairs at guamaffairs.substack.com. For more information, contact Perez at rickp7839@gmail.com.
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