Joaquin P. Perez

Joaquin P. Perez

The blunt rejection of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's request for a pause in military buildup construction should not come as a surprise. Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield is simply marching to a different drummer. Individuals appointed to the highest military position in this area understand and know better than to create waves. It was recently announced that Chatfield has been designated to command the Naval War College – a promotion that will presumably result in an additional star for the lady. Entering that stratosphere, any talk of salary or perks pales in comparison to the prestige and respect afforded that additional star. Chatfield's abrupt rejection of the governor's request should have been anticipated.

Guam's history with the military establishment is replete with instances in which requests, and/or demands, from elected civilian leadership are brushed aside or ignored, not because the military leadership did not understand or empathize with the civilian community, but simply because the requests/demands did not harmonize, synchronize or correspond with edicts from the Pacific Division (commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet) or the Pentagon.

In March 1949, the lower chamber of the Guam Congress walked out – led by Carlos P. Taitano – in protest of a recalcitrant naval governor refusing to listen to the island's civilian elected leadership. Controversy was instantly generated nationwide and discussions and passage of the Organic Act of Guam followed in 17 months.

In the early 1960s, Gov. Bill Daniel – a Texas rancher appointed by President John F. Kennedy – openly disobeyed security policy and escorted a young CHamoru mother, who lacked the necessary security clearance, onto a Guam-bound Navy plane. He told the guard, if you want to stop me, you'll have to shoot me. As a result, White House discussions on lifting security clearance requirements to exit or enter Guam were immediate. A single simple action of a civilian governor of Guam, assisting an innocent civilian, tested and ultimately defeated the edicts of the Department of Defense, the Department of State and Department of the Interior.

There are more examples but little space for more colorful discussions. Suffice it to say NOTHING happens until SOMETHING happens that demands the notice and attention of the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and, ultimately, the Pentagon.

Attempts to lay blame on those assigned to execute designs conjured up in a five-sided building on the shores of the Potomac are exercises in futility, yet these recriminations become popular fodder.

No one should lay blame on Guam's naval governors, whether their actions violated international treaties or the inalienable rights of human victims of horrific war atrocities. Non-U.S. citizens were told they could never return to their homes and human beings were displaced for reasons still not understood by their progeny and heirs – all these actions lacked a legal basis.

In the aftermath of the war, it becomes even more important and critical that laws of country and God be honored stringently. Taitano and his colleagues, for walking out on the naval governor, are now considered local heroes. In a most recent biography of Daniels, the tall Texan understood that the armed sentry was simply doing his job – thankfully and wisely, that sentry chose not to shoot Daniels or the young mother. These two pioneers and champions of human rights and righteous dissension are too few and far between.

It is extremely easy for people wearing "virgin white uniforms with shiny brass buttons" to forget that this island is governed by a civilian government. Its leadership is elected by a civilian constituency, and neither is bound by military protocol or mission directives.

Chatfield and admirals and generals before her spent most of their lives learning military protocols, unquestioning patriotism and obligation to duty. So obedience to her calling as an officer in a military establishment, conformity to norms governing the lives of field-grade officers and confirmation of her calling as an American patriot dictated how she responded to Leon Guerrero and the Guam Legislature. For this, Chatfield, like her predecessors, should be commended. The rear admiral, as the highest-ranking officer of Joint Region Marianas, answers to a finite number of superior officers, who themselves answer to another layer of finite superiors. And her performance was predictable.

On the other hand, the maga'håga and sigundo maga'låhi's heart and pulse must beat to different tunes. Although only 18,258 voted for them, they are, in reality, responsible and answerable to 55,961 voters, and the entire population of Guam – whatever that number may be. On the legislative resolution that triggered this controversy, the senators speak for every man, woman and child on Guam.

All the histrionics aside, the final question becomes: Håfa para ou cho'gue si Lou yan si Josh? (What are Lou and Josh going to do?)

Joaquin P. Perez, a resident of Santa Rita, is the former chief of staff to then-Del. Madeleine Bordallo and has decades of experience in senior roles in the government of Guam.

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