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Again With the Snakes

From the Washington Post: Guam Braces for Peaceful Military Incursion

“Although the island is typhoon-plagued and earthquake-prone, cursed with bad traffic, unable to cope with its own garbage and overrun with invasive tree snakes that have eaten nearly all the birds, the Guamanians aren’t just blowing smoke.”

(For the record, I’ve lived here over 20 years and I’ve seen two live snakes and three roadkill snakes.)

“The Pentagon has chosen Guam, a quirkily American place that marries the beauty of Bali with the banality of Kmart, as the prime location in the western Pacific for projecting U.S. military muscle.”

I enjoyed this response to the story:

“As WaPo tries to paternalistically put it, Guam is ‘a quirkily American place’. Yeah, like New York City is pretty quirky, and Berkeley is quirky and New Orleans is quirky…. More ‘different’ than ‘quirky’ really.

Guam ‘marries the beauty of Bali with the banality of Kmart’, and WaPo marries literature with cat litter, Seattle marries whales and Starbucks, Chicago marries blues and abattoirs…”

Last night my friends and I had a long conversation about foreigners and Guam hospitality. We don’t hate on foreigners, tourists, or the military. Just the ones who decide they hate Guam after spending all of 10 hours in a hotel room or on a military base. The ones who have unrealistic expectations of the island i.e. they expect a tiny U.S. territory in the middle of the Pacific ocean to be exactly like the U.S. mainland. The ones who are not mindful or respectful of the local culture and customs.
My friends and I understand that Guam is not for everyone, and not everyone is going to love it and have a fantastic time here. That can be said about everywhere else in the world. But to someone who is willing to try new things, meet new people, and is mindful and respectful of the local culture, we say: pull up a chair and come and eat! That’s Guam hospitality. And you won’t find that everywhere else in the world.

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7 Responses

  1. Marina says:

    Well said! I have lived all over the world and still call Guam home even though the last of my family left Malesso 10 years ago. I’ve seen many more tree snakes than you and my sister was bitten a few times when she was a fat & tasty baby, but they’re more of an annoyance than the SCOURGE OF THE PACIFIC. I can deal with the ignorance of people who have never been to Guam (yes I speak really good English, I use money to buy things and am okay with wearing clothes), it’s the one’s who have been there and hate it that make me crazy. Did you see the whole island? No. Really, because it only takes 1-2 days. Did you go to a fiesta? No. Really, because if you were within a 5 mile radius of one you would have been welcomed there without a second thought. Did you try scuba or snorkeling? No. Really, because the water there makes Hawaii look disgusting. Did you meet any Guamanians & try to make friends? No. Really, because even as one of 3 haole kids at Merizo Elementary I had no problem making friends I still visit almost 30 years later. I’d hate Portland too if all I did was focus on all the ways it wasn’t just like home!

  2. supernova3102 says:

    here is yet another article in the Post, this time on the military’s successful recruiting on guam, as well as the really alarming and disturbing rates of death of Guam men in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The author pishposhes poverty rates and unemployment and paints the picture of perfect patriotism, and does not contextualize the condescending empire and empire-building that subjects Guam to U.S. military service. hmm.
    full article for full enjoyment below:
    Guam’s Young, Steeped in History, Line Up to Enlist
    U.S. Territory Pays High Cost in War Deaths
    By Blaine Harden
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Sunday, January 27, 2008; A15
    BARRIGADA, Guam — As a recruiter for the Guam Army National Guard, Staff Sgt. Gonzalo Fernandez has oodles of time for golf. In the past two years, he has taken 18 strokes off his handicap.
    Slipping away to the links, however, has done nothing to dull his rising star at the office. Thanks to the eagerness of young Americans on this remote Pacific island to join the military, Fernandez is a two-time winner of the Guard’s recruiter of the year award for a seven-state western region that includes Colorado, Utah and California.
    “I’ll win it again this year,” said Fernandez, who also expects to have time for a lot more midweek golf. “I have a very relaxing life.”
    On the U.S. mainland, long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made life miserable for military recruiters. The armed forces have repeatedly missed enlistment targets, and standards have been lowered in response. More recruits with criminal records and histories of drug abuse have been allowed to enlist. And recruiters, pressured to meet quotas, have increasingly been accused of unethical and criminal misconduct.
    Nothing of the sort is happening here.
    Part of the reason is economic. Poverty rates and unemployment on Guam — a U.S. territory located more than 7,500 miles west of Los Angeles — are historically much higher than on the mainland, and wages are low. Schools are poor, and technical training is hard to find. There is not much for young people to do.
    But those are not the most important reasons, according to enlistees and recruiters, families of soldiers killed in action and veterans of the Iraq war.
    The key factor, they agree, is the island’s unique status in American history. People here grow up with war ringing in their ears — as described by their grandparents.
    Guam, a U.S. possession since it was taken in 1898 from the Spanish, is the only American soil with a sizable population to have been occupied by a foreign military power.
    During World War II, the Japanese held the island for almost three years and brutalized nearly everyone on it. They created concentration camps, forcing the indigenous Chamorro people to provide slave labor and sex.
    “If there is a group of Americans who understand the price of freedom, we do,” said Michael W. Cruz, lieutenant governor of Guam and a colonel in the Army National Guard.
    Cruz’s grandmother told him awful stories: She was held in a concentration camp. She was forced to watch as Japanese soldiers chopped off the heads of her brother and her eldest son. Her eldest daughters were forced into prostitution.
    Today, Guam is a haven for Japanese tourists, who account for most of the visitors to the island and whose spending powers much of the economy. But people haven’t forgotten.
    “We saw war in color — the beaches were splattered with blood,” said Cruz, referring to the 1944 liberation of Guam by U.S. forces, in which 3,000 Americans and 18,000 Japanese were killed.
    “When our nation calls us to serve, it is for us to answer it,” Cruz said.
    So military recruiters on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, also administered by the United States, have an embarrassment of riches. Standards have not been lowered. Targets are routinely exceeded. At his Army National Guard office, Fernandez meets potential recruits only if they call ahead and make an appointment.
    With a population of 173,000, Guam ranked No. 1 in 2007 for recruiting success in the Army National Guard’s assessment of 54 states and territories. (Maryland ranked last, the District second to last, and Virginia was 30th.)
    “I have got 12 people who want to join up this month,” Fernandez said. “But I can only process three of them because of lack of doctors to give them physicals. We can afford to be picky.”
    Roshjun Aguon, 19, plans to join the Army when he finishes his agriculture studies at the University of Guam, where he is in ROTC.
    Serving in the military, he said, is in his family’s blood. His father, his two uncles and most of his cousins have joined. His cousin Richard Junior D. Naputi, 24, was killed two years ago in Iraq by an improvised explosive device.
    “Of course the unpopularity of this war affects us,” Aguon said. “Mothers and sisters do not want to see us go off to war. But it is a tradition for my family.”
    And for the entire population. Liberation Day, July 21, is far and away the most important of Guam’s holidays — and is celebrated for the better part of a month, with speeches, parades and wild parties.
    During the Vietnam War, at least 70 servicemen from Guam were killed, a death rate nearly three times the national average. That war was not viewed on Guam as misguided or a failure, many residents here say.
    In the current wars, Micronesia is absorbing an exceptionally high death toll — 10 from Guam, 14 from the rest of Micronesia. On a per capita basis, various parts of Micronesia have killed-in-action rates up to five times as high as on the mainland.
    But that has not hurt recruiting. In fact, commanders here limit the number of war-zone duty tours for which soldiers can volunteer — so that other soldiers can get a chance to see action, according to Lt. Col. Marvin R. Manibusan, commander of the Guam Army National Guard’s recruiting and retention division.
    Poster-size pictures of the dead are displayed at the international airport.
    One photograph is of Army Maj. Henry San Nicolas Ofeciar, who was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan in August. He was a 37-year-old career officer and had volunteered for duty in a combat zone.
    His mother is Agnes Rillera.
    “The pain of his death I will take to the grave,” she said. “But I respect my son’s decision to serve. You tell Washington that we support what he did.”
    When Ofeciar’s remains were flown back to Guam, hundreds of people showed up at the airport to pay their respects — even though the coffin arrived on a flight that landed in the middle of the night, Rillera said.
    The governor and lieutenant governor of Guam have gone to the airport to receive the bodies of most of the fatalities.
    When a hearse carrying the coffin of a war casualty leaves the airport and travels across the island, which is about three times the size of the District of Columbia, residents here often line the streets in silence, holding up candles.
    The people of Guam are very much aware of the failings of U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Ofeciar’s sister, Orlene Ofeciar Arriola.
    “One thing about Guam, as compared to the mainland, we are not as fickle,” she said. “Our loved ones made a commitment. We are not going to dishonor their service because the policy is not correct.”

  3. fabmimi says:

    Absolutely right!…Everything hinges on perspective and it must be coupled with open minded-ness.
    There is no place like home for those of us attached because we were born/raised here. But having seen both sides of the spectrum and to have come and gone…it’s definitely a two-way street.
    I’ve also witnessed the reverse…Locals who don’t make conscious gestures to be warm to foreigners or who easily make fun of anyone not from here. This is our home and we have control of how we present ourselves. Soon we will be faced with accommodating an influx of residents into our population, yet we have a tourist-driven identity with a very limited pleasure span.
    I am filled with a sense of pride when I see off-islanders, particularly our military personnel, enjoying their time here and appreciating what we have to offer.

  4. trench says:

    Amen! Good post!

  5. Patti says:

    As you know, we loved our “way too short” one year in Guam and never miss an opportunity to praise it when someone here asks about it.I feel sorry for those in the military who are there for a few short years and don’t get out to explore the beauty of the island and the hospitality of the locals ~ they’re missing out on a wonderful experience. The friends we made on the Air Force Base were ones who got out to hike, SCUBA dive, etc. In fact, one couple likes it so much they are asking for an extention.
    It’s worrisome that so many marines are moving there but I have faith (hope)the Navy will put the infrastructure in place before the move occurs ~ it’s in their best interest as well.
    Thanks for keeping us posted on life in Guam ~ we miss it a lot!

  6. Casie says:

    You know, it is a real reflection on the US mainland educational system that most people I tell we are moving to Guam, have NO IDEA that it is part of the US. I get the questions “What language do they speak” or “Whats the exchange rate”. LOL.
    I am looking forward to moving and experiencing all that the island has to offer. Especially these fiestas I keep hearing about YUM!! I am looking forward to enlightening my friends and family also……it speaks volumes that the recruitment quotas are being met in Guam but not in the continental US.
    SO EXCITED!! I wish June was here already!

  7. Motoko says:

    Josie, I somewhat agree with how you stand on the “outsiders” opinion of Guam. But there is a certain amount of expectations that are not being met even for the U.S. citizens that are living on the island as residents – native born or just Guam loving folk. Part of the reason why I think Guam is given that “back of the bus” attitude is because of the bad decisions that have been made and are continuously being made on a daily basis. There are those people that want Guam to move on and progress as with the rest of the world. However, there are those people with “prominent” local last names that still want the monies that their parents afforded them because of the businesses that they begun/founded on the island. But this is only a part of the larger problem. Progression requires a certain amount of “open minded” thinking and a lot of accepting ideas that come from “outside the box”. There are a lot of individuals who seek to keep their positions of power in government local and federal agencies who know that new ideas will bring new people and competition to them and their posts – which in turn threatens the “cushiness” of their accepted lifestyles. There are a great number of people who left the island who badmouth the island. But there are those that just could not stand being on a boat with people who are willing to sabotage the greater good, because it impedes their own self-serving goals. Guam has a university that is very loosely accredited. Each time the accreditation teams come over, everyone at UOG sweats bullets because they know that in the end – they could very well be out of a job if the school’s deficiencies are brought to bear. Particularly, the school of nursing graduates a small number of students each year – the percentage of those students passing their Nursing Board Examination is well below 10%. They know this, and they come up with “patch” solutions that only benefit the staff with job security. There was a time that GCC was poised to launch a LPN/ASN program, sistered to their Medical/Nursing Assistant Program – that had an almost 80-90% Exam Board passing rate. However, the nursing staff at UOG, a Guam senator and those GCC staffers in league with UOG admin killed the program citing – “A program like this would not benefit Guam.” How ironic is that? Little to no graduates from UOG nursing want or can work as nurses on Guam. An agency that offers help is stifled from the start because of people doing what is only best for themselves and not the greater good. The PDN never got the story. KUAM never investigated a “scoop”. Furthermore, the people of Guam never saw any of this going on, but they now are feeling the effects of a hospital and clinics (like SDA-the day you snapped that shot in the waiting room) – as they are told to wait in the halls because an Emergency Room Doctor goes home at 5:30pm; and there is no one to wait on them as they need care.
    I’m sorry, but there is another side to the “bias” that plagues the island. There were many of us that believed that there would be a greater good at trying to serve the island with our hearts and minds attuned to the needs of the people that we love. But there are those that have ended up ruining it by taking advantage of the system. Rob L., you and I worked at Hit Radio together for sometime – we saw people like this come into the station for interviews and such. We even worked for people who had/have families who have taken advantage. Sadly, these people are still ruining it and will continue to run the island down to the very last drop of value. When will it get bad? I say Guam has been in a recession for the last 10 years. When the US government acknowledges that the US economy is in a recession, Guam will be in a new “state of crisis”. And all of the “governor’s” (whoever that will be) statements of how “this is/was not my fault” will be meaningless to the fact that people who are in the military will end up just not leaving the base for very much. That is what I think people need to start realizing and addressing. Lastly, there should be something of a “public” initiative to make those “trash talker military types” understand what the island is about – by lawfully demanding that there be more accountability and action on the part of their local government. I mean real auditing and real no nonsense decisions opposing administrators and government agencies that abuse their power. Without sounding like I want to start a coupe, there needs to be a complete revamp of how the island “acts/reacts” to the world – and it starts with people. The people are unhappy, people say lousy things about the island & the people…get the island cleaned up – then there’s not trash talk that will hold up anywhere in the world.

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