Moylan Highlights Guam’s Military Importance for US in the Pacific

July 20, 2023 by Dan McCue
Moylan Highlights Guam’s Military Importance for US in the Pacific
Rep. James Moylan, R-Guam. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — As Americans, “the West” has often played a role in our history and national psyche.

“Go West, young man,” the newspaper editor Horace Greeley wrote in the New York Daily Tribune on July 13, 1865.

Though he may not have been the first to use the phrase and his vision of expansion may have extended only as far as Buffalo, New York, or Springfield, Illinois, depending on varying historical interpretations, his column is nevertheless considered the pure distillation of the concept of Manifest Destiny, the belief that American settlers were destined to expand across the continent.

(We’ll overlook the fact the column was a knock on Washington, D.C., which Greeley said was “Not a place to live in.” Among his complaints: “The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable.”)

Once settlers did indeed conquer the West, the cowboy and frontiersman became a sort of definition of American manhood. In the late 19th century, even a future president, Theodore Roosevelt, traveled as far as North Dakota to finally slay a chronic case of asthma that had plagued him since childhood.

And our concept of the West expanded further in the 20th century as America’s military might and, eventually, a world war broadcast for the first time on the radio, brought the territory of Hawaii and other Pacific Island chains into the nation’s living rooms.

By the time Hawaii became a state in August 1959, its image would be remade by a burgeoning surfing craze and ambitious entrepreneurs who began selling it as a tropical island retreat for the well-off.

But as tensions with China continue to mount, Americans are increasingly realizing that our nation’s true leading edge in the West isn’t Hawaii at all, but actually the U.S. territory of Guam, an island dominated by the presence of U.S. military forces.

A mere six hours by jet from mainland China, if hostilities were to erupt, say, over the future of Taiwan or ongoing territorial disputes arising from conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea, Guam would in all likelihood be the first piece of America to come under enemy attack.

That reality is something freshman Rep. James Moylan, R-Guam, works hard to ensure his colleagues on Capitol Hill don’t forget.

“It’s a continuous process,” Moylan told The Well News during an interview in his sixth floor office in the Longworth House Office Building.

“Guam is so crucial to the United States, especially with the current tensions in the Indo-Pacific, known as the IndoPaCom region, and yet, because it is so far out — we’re seven-and-a-half hours west of Hawaii by commercial airliner — it is a place that people tend to forget about.

“That’s why one of the things we spend a lot of time on in this office is communication,” Moylan said. “We’re constantly working to educate my colleagues about Guam and to bring it to the forefront. And the same thing goes for their staff.”

Though he has no vote on the House floor as a delegate from Guam’s at-large district — putting him in the same boat as Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic at-large delegate for the District of Columbia — Moylan is a key voice and voting member on both the House Armed Services and Natural Resources Committees.

In the former role Moylan recently secured a number of wins for the island in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the policy agenda and authorizes funding for the Department of Defense annually.

Among these was the inclusion of over $1.7 billion for the military in Guam, including an additional $100 million for the new, 360-degree Guam missile defense system for which preliminary construction began earlier this year.  

Other amendments Moylan added to the bill include a provision directing the secretary of Defense to determine the feasibility and costs of partnering with the Guam Power Authority and other local utility entities to enhance the island’s power grid and harden its energy infrastructure. 

While the Defense Department’s outsized role on the island is due to the fact it occupies nearly a third of Guam’s 217 square miles, this request and others Moylan rolled into the NDAA also stem from the impact of Typhoon Mawar, one of the strongest Northern Hemisphere cyclones on record, which struck the region in May.

Moylan has also included an ask in the NDAA for an assessment of the feasibility and costs of repairing the infrastructure torn apart by the typhoon’s 184-mile-per-hour winds.

Still other Moylan amendments deal with the military’s impact on Guam’s local economy. One directs the Defense secretary to determine the feasibility and cost of creating new military housing so that an expanding military presence on the island doesn’t inadvertently drive up the cost of homes for the island’s indigenous residents, known as Chamoru.

Finally, the at-large representative is asking that the Defense Department determine the feasibility and cost of dredging at the Port of Guam to help reduce the cost of shipping goods to the island and lower the current high cost of living there.

Since The Well News spoke with Moylan, the Senate has been moving toward passing its version of the NDAA.

On Tuesday night, the bill passed its first test, when the chamber voted to advance the bill to a final passage vote in the chamber. That vote has not yet been scheduled and may not happen until next week.

Once the Senate approves its NDAA bill, lawmakers will need to reconcile the Senate bill and the House bill by negotiating a compromise version that can pass both chambers. 

Asked how he hopes to safeguard his amendments, given he has no vote on the floor, Moylan said he’s “fighting” to be a member of the conference committee that will negotiate the compromises that occur.

“We need representation there and we’ve put out the word that we wish to be a part of it,” he said. “If we are, it will be momentous for us.”

Moylan, a native of the island, graduated from John F. Kennedy High School there and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Guam.

Prior to entering politics, Moylan served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army and a parole officer for the Guam Department of Corrections. 

He was elected to the island’s Legislature in 2019, and to the U.S. Congress last November.

During a nearly hourlong conversation, Moylan smiled warmly and frequently when he spoke of his home, noting that it recently celebrated its 79th Liberation Day.

The observance remembers the date, July  21, 1944, when U.S. Marines and Army forces declared the island secure from the Japanese Army.

“That’s why our main road is called Marine Corps Drive,” he said.

Ever since, he said, the U.S. military has had a special “resonance” and enduring presence on the island. 

That legacy became even more entwined earlier this year, when the U.S. Marines officially opened their Camp Blaz on the island on Jan 25.

The base was named after Guam local Brig. Gen. Vicente T. “Ben” Blaz, who was the first person of an ethnic minority to reach general rank in the U.S. Marine Corps.

In addition to his military service, Blaz served as Guam’s delegate to Congress from 1985 to 1993.

The base will eventually house as many as 5,000 Marines, with most of them relocated from installations in Okinawa Prefecture and Japan.

The new base joined Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base — recently combined to form Joint Region Marianas — as the United States’ forward position in the aforementioned IndoPaCom region, a geographic zone that extends from the West Coast of the United States to the east coast of India and from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a combat command that encompasses roughly 52% of the Earth.

Moylan said despite the size of its presence, the U.S. military doesn’t generate its own power on Guam. Instead it is the largest customer of the island’s main electric utility.

“It’s a huge generating plant that we are currently modernizing,” he said. “Basically, we want it to use less fuel and be more reliant on solar power and battery backups.”

Aside from the military, Moylan said much of Guam’s economy is driven by tourism, with Japanese and Koreans making up most of the island’s travel customers. 

In all, only about 150,000 of Guam’s residents are native Chamoru like himself.

Aside from getting a crash course in what Moylan characterized as the increasingly “cocky” stance of the Communist Chinese and Guam in general, The Well News asked the territory’s delegate about his unique position in Congress and how he strives to get things done amidst so much divisiveness.

“Well, you build relationships,” he said. “You make a friend. You talk to people.”

Gesturing to a nearby bookcase, Moylan pointed out the handbook he received during new member orientation for the current Congress.

“As I flipped through it for the first time, I realized that it was almost like a high school yearbook, with pictures of all the new members inside,” he said. “So I took it around and said, ‘Hey, would you mind signing my yearbook?’ And the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“My new colleagues were saying, ‘Hey, this is cool. This is going to be a collector’s item.’ And they’d sign my handbook. Well, after that, you meet the same people and they remember the laughter you shared and you talk,” he said.

“The other thing about being a new member is you really have to sell yourself to get on the committees that you think are important,” he continued. “So I went to Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who was about to be the next chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who was to be the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and I introduced myself.

“I said, ‘Hi, I’m James Moylan. This is what I do. Here’s my background. I want to be really helpful to my community and to do that, I’d like to be on your committee.’ After that you have to follow up with letters and so forth and really sell, sell, sell.”

But Moylan said getting on the committee of one’s choice is one thing, having influence is entirely another.

“Once you get on the committee you’ve wanted, your presence has to be there. You don’t miss a committee meeting. You don’t miss a committee vote. And if you have something against what has been introduced, you better discuss it, because when it comes to the floor, you better vote the way the bill has been arranged.

“So it’s important to raise any questions you have and get things you want included in the bill so you can support the legislation,” he said.

Moylan said one reason he’s been able to so successfully make Guam’s case before the committee is he’s invited members of the House Armed Services Committee to actually visit the island.

“Again, it’s a matter of education about a place that’s very far away,” he said. “So we went over and just back two or three weeks ago. The chairman came. The ranking member from the Democratic Party, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., was there, as were some of my ‘classmates’ among the new members.

“And the result is, they’ve now made the journey and recognize Guam’s strategic importance to Hawaii to Japan to the Philippines and to Taiwan, and in a sense, they’ve all now become experts on Guam, so when you say, ‘Hey let’s do this,’ you’re there.

“That tangible experience of being on the ground in a place makes it much easier to argue that you’re doing something for the defense of the island that is also for the defense of the nation,” he said.

The next step in the path to influence on Capitol Hill, of course, is longevity.

Moylan said getting results in committee and garnering support for his amendments to the NDAA will go a long way toward pleasing his constituents.

“When people elect you — and I think their first thought after Election Day is ‘Don’t let us down’ — but once they’ve seen that you’re taking action, their point of view changes. Then it’s, ‘Okay, we trust you.’

“And that’s how you build up longevity, and ultimately how you really get to move up in Congress. It’s always a process, inside and outside of Congress, of people saying, ‘Prove to us you are the person we think you are’ in your first term, second term, third term … and that’s how these guys become senior and ranking [representatives].”

As Moylan spoke he mentioned how intensely interested in politics people living in Guam are, even if they don’t entirely understand what a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives does.

The fact is, their lone delegate is their only federal official. Guam is not represented in the U.S. Senate.

“I used to say, ‘Boy, I wish we had an NFL football team,’ or at least a professional baseball team so we could talk more sports and not as much about politics,” he laughed.

“But people do take politics and government very seriously there, so it means you have to be present,” he said.

The obvious question this statement raised was “how is this possible?”

After all, it was mentioned, Moylan’s district work week is only as long as that of any other member, and he’s got a 20-hour flight each year.

“So far, it’s worked out fine,” he said. “I’m three weeks here and one week on Guam, and as long as you do have at least five days, it’s definitely doable. There hasn’t been a single month that I haven’t been home in my district, and this month, I might even get there twice, which is nice.

“The thing is, the expectations for me are just like those for any other member. Your presence needs to be back home in your district. You need to be there and you need to show people that you are there … and that you’re not just working for the federal government,” he said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

  • China
  • Guam
  • James Moylan
  • National Defense Authorization Act
  • NDAA
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