Guam residents seek answers, tout the island amid tensions

Tony Babauta, 48, speaks to the The Associated Press on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Hagatna, Guam. Babauta, lives in the western village of Agat. He's former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior and has lived on Guam three years. (AP Photo/Tassanee Vejpongsa)

Residents of Guam spoke about two key issues as the Pacific island sits in the crosshairs of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States

HAGATNA, Guam — The 160,000 residents of Guam are in the crosshairs of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States.

The tropical island is a key strategic location in the western Pacific Ocean for the U.S. military, but that also makes it a potential target as the closest American territory to North Korea.

Amid fears over potential warfare, The Associated Press asked several Guam residents what they want to know about the situation and what they want the people of North Korea and the United States to know about Guam. Here are their responses:

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'WE'RE JUST AS IMPORTANT'

Don Seery lives in Sinajana, a village near the capital of Hagatna. The middle-school teacher in the public school system has lived on Guam for more than 25 years.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE SITUATION? "I wish I knew what our reaction would be to any provocation from the North Korean side, because eventually it's going to have to be stopped if it gets worse."

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT GUAM? "More than they know right now ... and being in a strategic location as we are, we're just as important as anybody in the mainland."

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'WHAT ARE THE ACTUAL THREATS ABOUT?'

Lifelong Guam resident Jeremiah Lorenzo, 23, lives in Santa Rita, a village next to the naval base. He works at the University of Guam.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE SITUATION? "I guess just more information about what's actually going on. What are the actual threats about? ... There's no details about what this is actually about."

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT GUAM? "People only know the military side of it. They don't know there's other locals or other people living here or, like, vacation here."

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'IT'S PARADISE'

Tony Babauta, 48, lives in the western village of Agat. He is former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior and has lived on Guam three years.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE SITUATION? "I think what we would like to know is that cooler heads are going to prevail when it comes to the escalating tension that has occurred over the past couple of days."

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT GUAM? "It's unfortunate that it takes tensions like this within the region in order for people to learn a little bit more about Guam. Aside from the tensions in the region between the United States and North Korea, Guam is a wonderful place to be. It's paradise."

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'THERE'S A LOT OF RHETORIC'

Jeff Bell, 32, a civil and mechanical engineer, moved back to Guam seven years ago. He first moved to the island in 1996 but then left for college.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE SITUATION? "I wish I knew more about what everyone's real intentions are. There's a lot of rhetoric, and I don't think the rhetoric — both on the U.S. side and on the North Korean side — actually reflects true beliefs. I think everyone is trying to talk big and present a strong face. I wish I knew what was actually behind that, whether Korea actually had any intention of attacking or whether U.S. has any intention of preemptively striking."

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT GUAM? "A lot of people only think of Guam in terms of its military strategic importance. We're important for that, but that's not all there is to it. There's a lot of civilians here. Military is only a small, tiny fraction of what Guam is. It's a beautiful island, peaceful people who are not interested in war. We're a strategic location, but that's not all we are."

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'SOUNDS LIKE GUM'

Carol Ragan, 57, lives in Tamuning with her 13-year-old daughter after moving from New York City. She is the owner and operator of a coffee shop in Hagatna, one of the first cafes to offer locals espressos and mochas. She's operated Hava Java cafe since moving to Guam 21 years ago.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE SITUATION? "I would like to understand more about the sanctions and what the impact of the sanctions would be and how much China can have in their involvement to get North Korea to back off. I'm not clear on that. That's what I need more information on."

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT GUAM? "A lot of people make fun of Guam, it sounds like gum, something you get on your shoe. There are a lot of people here, the military here are a big presence, a lot of people from Guam — born and raised on Guam — join the military and they're all over the world, and I'd like people to know that."

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'WE DON'T NEED THIS HATRED'

Annette Shimizu, 52, a retired law enforcement officer, lives in Mangilao, a village on the east coast of Guam. She was born on the island but traveled as a military brat. She moved back to Guam in 1979.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE SITUATION? "That U.S. can stop North Korea from all of this. But the bottom line, when you deal with nuclear, they don't realize that when you blow up a nuclear bomb, everybody's affected, including the person that pulled that trigger."

WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT GUAM? "Everything about our little island is paradise. We take care of everybody, whether it be the U.S., whether it be foreign. That's what Guam is all about, a lot of love, and we don't need this hatred."

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