The transfer of Marines from Okinawa to Guam could begin as early as October 2024 and take 18 months to complete, according to a report by Japan’s Kyodo News service that cites a Marine Corps official on the U.S. Pacific island territory.
The Marine Corps’ Asia-Pacific realignment calls for 4,100 Okinawa-based Marines to be relocated to Guam, along with 900 others from elsewhere around the globe.
About 2,700 more Okinawa-based Marines will be sent to Hawaii, while 800 will go to the U.S. mainland. Another 1,300 are to make up most of a 2,500-person rotational force in Australia.
It is unclear how many Marines will be left on Okinawa once the realignment is complete. Marine officials had yet to answer queries by Thursday afternoon in Japan.
Approximately 1,700 of the Marines moving to Guam would be permanently stationed there, while about 3,300 would be rotated in and out, according to Marine officials citing the plan of record. The move had been scheduled to begin sometime between 2022 and 2026.
“The transfer of the III Marine Expeditionary Force is expected to begin during the first half of the fiscal year that begins in October 2024,” Kyodo reported Tuesday, citing Marine Corps Activity Guam spokesman 1st Lt. Brett Lazaroff. “Approximately 2,400 dependents will be accompanying the 5,000 Marines. Guam currently hosts around 7,800 U.S. service members.”
Lazaroff did not return calls or emails seeking comment this week by Stars and Stripes. A spokeswoman for Headquarters Marine Corps declined to confirm specifics or comment on the Kyodo report when reached Tuesday.
“Per U.S.- Government of Japan statements, the Marine Corps is committed to commencing the relocation of the force by the end of the first half of the 2020’s,” headquarters spokeswoman Capt. Karoline Foote wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes on Saturday. “However, we are currently too far from the commencement of relocation to provide a specific movement timeline.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, in testimony May 1 before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said it has not been decided how to move Marines from Guam to fight if war breaks out in the region.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, asked if the realignment to Guam made sense.
“The plan as it is currently designed, I think, is worthy of possibly a review,” Neller said. “That’s my personal and professional opinion.”
Marine officials are “continually” reviewing all of the plans “as situations develop and new information becomes available,” Foote said. “Changes to plans to relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam would not occur without the input of the Department of Defense, INDOPACOM, US Forces Japan, the Government of Guam and our Japanese Partners.”
Plans take shape
The Marine Corps’ realignment in the Indo-Pacific was born out of massive protests following the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two Marines and a sailor. Locals also demanded the closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma due to safety concerns in a densely packed urban area and sought a smaller U.S. military footprint there.
The southern island prefecture is home to about 30,000 U.S. troops — about half of all American servicemembers based in Japan.
In 2006, some locals bristled when it was decided to keep Futenma’s air operations on Okinawa by moving them to Camp Schwab on the northern coast.
Air facilities at Schwab were supposed to be completed by 2014, the Government Accountability Office reported, but progress has been slowed, most notably by unsuccessful court challenges by anti-base Okinawan governors. The project was then pushed to 2022 or later.
The goal posts moved again in March when III Marine Expeditionary Force Commander Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said another three or four years of delays could be added to prior estimates due to the soft seabed encountered by construction crews. Airfield construction there involves reclaiming a portion of the bay adjacent to Schwab.
U.S. bases on Okinawa are also being consolidated.
Wheels of progress
Construction has been moving along briskly on Guam. More than $500 million worth of projects have been completed, officials said previously, most notably at Andersen Air Force Base’s north ramp, which will host the aviation-combat element, along with its command and control and logistics support.
The first major piece of Marine Corps Base Guam, barracks for unaccompanied Marines, is expected to be completed in 2020, Marine officials told Stars and Stripes previously.
A $28.5 million contract for power upgrades for the new base is also expected to be completed next year.
The Guam portion of the realignment is slated to cost about $8.7 billion. About $3 billion is being paid for by the Japanese government.
The main area of the Finegayan Marine base will be named in honor of Marine Brig. Gen. Vicente “Ben” Tomas Garrido Blaz, the highest-ranking Chamorro to have served in the Marines, officials announced previously.
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