Guam military buildup office changes name, expands focus

Vera Topasna, who heads up the renamed office, says gone are the days of the buildup being solely focused on the Marines relocation to Guam. (PNC photo)

Guam’s military buildup office has changed its name and its focus as Adelup tries to shore up more benefits for the island from the federal government.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero issued an executive order this week changing the current office, known as the Guam Military Buildup Office, to the Community Defense Liaison Office (also known as CDLO).

This office, according to the order, will serve as the lead agency relative to the realignment and growth initiatives of DoD forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Vera Topasna, who heads up the renamed office, says gone are the days of the buildup being solely focused on the Marines relocation to Guam.

“We have an Air Force presence, we have a Navy presence and under the National Defense Strategy, there are some priorities and some changes and in the defense budget there are allocations for some growth in the Air Force and Navy bases. So, whether or not that’s aligned with the buildup, the Marine buildup, it’s still growth nonetheless,” Topasna said.

She says their focus under the new mandate from the Governor is all about the community and maximizing Guam’s benefits from being such a strategic point for defense operations.

“Part of my responsibility is looking at the NDAA which is an annual DoD budget. In reviewing that budget we came across some DoD initiatives that are being funded in other states. And we picked up the phone and made some phone calls and from that we were able to connect the National Guard to a STEM program that DoD funds with the Air National Guard,” Topasna said.

She added: “It’s more community-driven if you will…and looking at not just what’s happening inside the fence but what community opportunities are available outside of the fence and how do we partner with the Department of Defense…as a defense community.”

Topasna says DoD also doled out $6 million dollars to the Chalan Pago Mayor’s office to build a multi-use recreational facility that could be used as an emergency shelter should it be needed for both military and community use.

“Our focus is on how do we engage more with the military and not just focus on what’s happening inside the base but what community opportunities are available to the people of Guam, including the military,” Topasna said.

The CDLO is also part of the discussions with the Governor’s office, trying to find excess land from the military to build a new public hospital for the island.

Topasna says ultimately they’re a liaison office, working to bring all the right players to the table and getting strategic input from various GovGuam agencies to prioritize the community’s need during military discussions.

She says they’re also getting ready to work with the incoming Biden-Harris administration and what their priorities will be for defense.

“We’re tracking climate change and energy resiliency and how Guam needs to prioritize our need in that area and having those discussions with our community partners,” Topasna said.

The Community Defense Liaison Office is 100% federally funded and Topasna says with the name change, they’re able to widen their scope and use the grant money that’s funding them to continue doing their work and getting Guam’s voice to the table more often.

Topasna says they’re working to build a website to centralize information on military affairs into one depository for easier access for residents.