An influential U.S. senator is questioning a plan to relocate 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam and says an alternative would be to rotate combat forces to Guam from a home base such as Hawaii or Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., raised the question as he and two other senators said the planned reorganization of American forces in East Asia, including closing bases on Okinawa, is unworkable and unaffordable.
The suggestion by Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for East Asia and the Pacific, does not make clear whether such a plan would mean basing more Marines in Hawaii or using the Marines already here on rotations to Guam.
Webb’s office did not provide elaboration last week.
Marine Corps Base Hawaii, which includes military personnel at Camp Smith and other locations, has about 15,500 active-duty military members, officials said. The Kaneohe Bay base houses about 9,500 Marines and sailors.
Webb, along with Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, the two highest-ranking members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, made the recommendations for East Asia in a joint statement May 13. They offered alternatives they say would save billions but still keep U.S. military forces in the region.
Levin is a Michigan Democrat and Arizona’s McCain is a Republican.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said the recommendations proposed by the senators "merit further review."
"However, it is important to note that these are recommendations, and any assumptions that the proposed changes to the Guam realignment will result in more Marines stationed in Hawaii requires careful analysis," Inouye said in a statement. "The governments of Japan and the U.S. will continue to work together to resolve the outstanding realignment issues in a manner that is both equitable and mindful of the current fiscal challenges both our countries face."
The Marine Corps should consider revising its plan for Guam to a "stripped-down presence" with a permanently assigned (family- accompanied) headquarters element bolstered by deployed, rotating combat units that are based elsewhere, Webb said.
"This distinction would make a strong difference in terms of infrastructure costs for schools, medical, recreational facilities and housing," Webb said. "A good estimate is that 8,000 Marines would become 23,000 Americans if family members were included."
In the larger context, the Defense Department should re-examine its plans for South Korea, Guam and Okinawa — where many islanders oppose the presence of U.S. forces, Webb, McCain and Levin said.
A 2006 agreement with Japan aimed at decreasing America’s military footprint there is outdated and imposes an "enormous financial burden" on the U.S. ally as it recovers from March’s huge earthquake, the three senators said.
The U.S. has appropriated $407 million in military construction funds to support the move of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Inouye’s office said. The Japanese also have a commitment to provide $6 billion for Guam.