A tiny island in the Pacific has the eyes of the world upon it as tensions continue to rise between the United States and North Korea. The nation of Guam, which became an American territory after the Spanish-American War in 1898, is bracing for a potential attack, after the hermit kingdom vowed earlier this week to create “enveloping fire” with a medium-range ballistic missile.
As the Washington Post reported, Guam sits 4,000 miles west of Hawaii and 2,200 miles southeast of North Korea. Not only is it home to some 160,000 people, including 7,000 American military personnel, it also serves as a strategic linchpin for American interests in the Pacific. Joint Region Marianas, the combined Navy and Air Force installation on the island, is the home port for nuclear submarines and a contingent of Special Operations forces, in addition to serving as the launch point and refueling station for flights over Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
While citizens remain on high alert, officials have tried to quell fears in recent days, reiterating that the island has the support of the U.S. military and government and is prepared for whatever comes its way.
“I know we woke up to media reports of North Korea’s talk of revenge on the United States and this so-called newfound technology that allows them to target Guam,” Eddie Baza Calvo, the governor of Guam, said on Wednesday. “I’m working with Homeland Security, the rear admiral and the United States to ensure our safety, and I want to reassure the people of Guam that currently there is no threat to our island or the Marianas.”
Calvo went on to say that while “there is no change in the threat level resulting from North Korea events,” he has received reassurances from the White House that an attack or threat against Guam is an attack or threat against the U.S., and the island “will be defended” as such.
“With that said, I want to ensure that we are prepared for any eventuality,” Calvo said, adding that he is convening a group “to discuss the state of readiness of our military and our local first responders.”
This is not the first time Guam has found itself on North Korea’s radar. According to CBN News, 2013 state news reports suggested Kim Jong-Un ordered his military to prepare plans to strike U.S. military bases in Guam, Hawaii, and South Korea, before changing his mind. Just last year, the North Korean foreign ministry once again warned of an attack on military installations in Guam, but no incidents occurred.
Guam is armed with with the U.S. Army’s anti-missile defense system, known as THAAD, which has been successfully tested to intercept missiles, and residents of the island have shared with news agencies that the strong military presence does provide some peace of mind. Even still, the uncertainty surrounding the current geopolitical climate has left many on edge.
“It’s actually been scary since yesterday,” resident Kate Quiambao told CBN News earlier this week. “We’re trying to plan out if there’s going to be an emergency and things like that.”
“I’m a little worried, a little panicked. Is this really going to happen?” Cecil Chugrad, a 37-year-old bus driver for a tour bus company in Guam, told the Associated Press. “If it’s just me, I don’t mind, but I have to worry about my son. I feel like moving (out of Guam) now.”