TUMON, Guam — Guamanians are more and more concerned with the rising potential of a North Korean missile strike hitting this U.S. territory, the closest U.S. soil to Pyongyang, Guam’s Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview here this week.
“We’re the tip of the spear” against North Korea, Tenorio told Breitbart News in a lengthy multi-part interview focused on economic, workforce, development, security, and representation concerns of this U.S. territory situated 10,000 miles away from Washington.
“We’re the most far-flung U.S. soil or U.S. territory,” Tenorio said. “By thus, we have the laws and the Constitution of the United States that support us. And of course we have a very large military presence.”
Tenorio is a conservative Republican Lt. Governor to a fellow conservative governor, Eddie Baza Calvo. Tenorio is running for governor in the 2018 election and is expected to be the GOP nominee in a territory that has generally, with rare exception, elected GOP governors throughout its history.
Thousands of U.S. military personnel live on two bases—an Air Force base and a Navy base—on the 210-square-mile island. Guamanians are U.S. citizens by birth—and some of the most intensely patriotic citizens at that.
They have some of— if not the highest per capita military service rates of in any U.S. territory or state, but they feel concerned about the region’s rising threats.
It’s not just North Korea—though Kim Jong Un is certainly the direst threat to the United States in the region—but rising Chinese influence as well, as Russian dominance has Guam on high alert all the time. Russian planes, the Lt. Governor says, have buzzed the area, making sure their presence is felt.
“But the prominence of us, we have the THAAD missile defense system because of North Korea,” Tenorio told Breitbart News. “We have Russian fighters and bombers that come directly within proximity of our radar system and we know that they’re here. This is not just an isolated thing. They come around pretty frequently—I can’t tell you how frequent, I don’t have that information, but it’s pretty frequent. They’re Russians.”
“Absolutely,” Tenorio told Breitbart News when asked if the Russians want their planes to be heard by Guam. “‘We’re here and we’re letting you know we’re here.’ They’re not doing it covertly.”
Guam’s economy is supported mostly by two major industries: the U.S. military and tourism. South Koreans represent the one or two biggest nations of origin for tourism to Guam, and Tenorio told Breitbart News that if Kim Jong Un flies off the handle, it could doom this U.S. territory’s economy.
If this issue in North Korea erupts and the South Koreans and anyone for that matter coming to Guam would have the jitters because North Korea has been literally threatening Guam. That [North Korean missile threats] is an issue that is on the back of people’s minds—it’s not forefront, but if this thing were to spiral out of control, or if we were to have provocations that actually come to fruition it definitely would be a threat to our economy. You know, like anything that threatens a small community, if there would be a fight in Japan for example, you know what would happen to those economies surrounding those areas would be detrimentally impacted to a substantial degree.
When asked if residents in Guam live in fear of a missile attack from North Korea, Tenorio said “yes.” He points to reports that the U.S. missile defense system has not always been successful in testing in recent years. He said:
That’s the thing, I think there’s this sort of checked optimism. People have this reservation, but they’re confident in our military. They know they’re mission capable and mission ready. We know that the THAAD system will protect us. We have confidence because we have to. We have to believe that our country, our military, our Air Force that operate that THAAD system are able to defend us. We have to believe in the technology otherwise it wouldn’t be here. But I heard that there was only about a week ago there was this missile that was fired and it hit another missile—you remember that one? And they said that’s good because it was successful, but there were three prior attempts where they missed. And I’m saying ‘wait a minute, what do you mean missed? One out of four? That’s when you knew it was being fired.’
To hit Guam, Tenorio noted, it would take only eight to nine minutes for a missile launched from Pyongyang. That leaves little room for error. Tenorio’s chief of staff Joseph Duenas noted that the chance of Pyongyang actually successfully hitting Guam is slim to none, but the risk is still too high for people’s liking.
“If Pyongyang launched a missile at Guam, it would hit here in eight minutes,” Duenas told Breitbart News. “But there’s multiple layers of defense and I was talking to our security folks and he said the chance of a missile hitting Guam with all of the redundant missile defense systems is like .001 percent.”
This is the first in a multi-part series of Breitbart News exclusive reporting from the U.S. territory of Guam.