The Marine Corps has reactivated a historic base on the island of Guam as part of an ongoing reshuffle and reorganization of troops in the Pacific.
The service held a ceremony to establish Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz -- the first new base for the Marines in 70 years -- on Thursday at Asan Beach in Guam, a press release announced.
Ultimately 5,000 Marines will be stationed there, Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon's deputy press secretary, told reporters Thursday. Capt. Ryan Bruce, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, said that Marines will begin relocating to the island "in the first half of the 2020s."
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Japanese news outlets reported that the transfer will start in 2024.
The base, which is on Guam's northern plateau, is still in the process of being built. The Marine Corps noted in its press release that it is "partially funded by a large monetary contribution from the Government of Japan." Japanese news outlets, citing the country's defense ministry, reported that the contribution is 370 billion yen, or $2.86 billion out of a total cost of $8 billion.
The press release said that Guam was chosen as a location for a new base in 2012 as part of a broader defense agreement between the U.S. and Japan. That agreement "set the framework for the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam."
Singh noted that the move of Marines from Okinawa to Guam "doesn't reduce the presence at Okinawa" despite the fact that the base's opening comes just two weeks after the Marines announced that they would be swapping out the units stationed on the Japanese island, replacing the 12th Marine Regiment with the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment by 2025.
The Marine Corps said that this redesignation will mean the relocation of approximately 9,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to commence in 2024 and stressed that "no new units will be added" to the island.
That earlier announcement went on to say that, "to maintain the number at the agreed upon troop levels," units in Okinawa "will be strategically dispersed throughout the Indo-Pacific Theater, with Guam to serve as an important logistics hub in the future."
"In terms of our commitment to Okinawa, we're still going to have a presence there as well," Singh told reporters.
In announcing the new base, the Marine Corps also highlighted its history on Guam. The branch first arrived on the island in 1899 and set up a barracks. The island was captured by the Japanese in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it was taken back by U.S. forces -- primarily the Marines -- in 1944. The Marine barracks on the island was reactivated after World War II and was in operation until 1992.
The base's namesake -- Brig. Gen. Vicente Tomas "Ben" Garrido Blaz -- was the first Chamorro Marine, an indigenous group from Guam and other islands in the area, to become a general officer.
Despite the outreach to the people of Guam and the Chamorro people who live on nearby islands, the reactivation of the base was met with some protest. Local news outlets on the island reported that protesters showed up to the ceremony marking the establishment of the new base, with the group's leader claiming that bases like this one "make us a bigger target for war, and we are tired of being a colony."
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
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