In the first years after the September 11 terror attacks, administrators at Guam’s A.B. Won Pat International Airport put up memorial banners to honor members of the military from the island and neighboring US territories who died in Washington’s war on terror.
The names have added up — by the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, the airport installed a digital memorial so they could list them all.
“It became so overwhelming that it took over the entire east ticket lobby and we had no remaining wall space,” says Rolenda Faasuamalie, marketing director at the airport. “These are our brothers and our nephews and our sons and sisters.”
Guam, a far-flung island in the Western Pacific, is known for two things: its beaches and its military capabilities.
The 30-mile-long island serves as a launch pad and refueling station for US warplanes and ships. It also is the closest US territory to North Korea.
The island has been threatened multiple times by Pyongyang, especially at time of heightened tensions between the two countries in mid-August.
But many who live on this island are fiercely patriotic. They say they feel safer with the US military at their backs when threats come hurled at them from North Korea. Others say the military’s large footprint on Guam makes them a target.
All of them share something in common: they cannot vote for the President who could put them in harm’s way.
‘That patriotic type of island’
People here are quick to say nearly every family in Guam has a relative in uniform.
War has been a defining part of Guam’s history since the beginning of the 20th century. The island was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War, though it was temporarily occupied by the Japanese in World War II. More than 14,000 endured wartime atrocities like torture and forced relocation to concentration camps during that time.
Today, nearly a third of the island is controlled by the military. Guam is home to an Air Force base and a naval base which, among other things, supports a small fleet of submarines.
Many here are proud of the country they belong to and the military’s presence on their island. By and large, Guam’s residents are willing to put their lives on the line for it — according to the US military, Guam’s population boasts the highest rate of military participation per capita.
“We’re just that patriotic type of island,” says Guam native Patrick Flores.
Flores, 47, served in the US Army in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down and deployed to the Middle East during the first Iraq War.
“I feel it’s an honor to serve under the greatest nation in the world which is the US,” Flores says.
Decades later, he deployed to Afghanistan for a year as a member of Guam’s National Guard battalion.
He was accompanied by at least seven close members of the Flores family, including his son Patrick Jesus Flores.
The younger Flores — who is known in the National Guard as “Patrick Junior” — admits that as a child he loathed the military due to his father’s many long deployments.
“I hated the military for always splitting my family up,” the younger Flores says. Eventually, though, the 22-year-old had a change of heart.
“The big reason for why I chose to serve in the military is because of my dad … to follow in his footsteps and serve, protect my family, protect my island and serve my country.”
‘Owed the right’
The Flores understand the risks and the sacrifices implicit in serving in the armed forces. Two members of their Guam National Guard battalion were killed by a suicide car bomb in Kabul in 2013.
What they have trouble is accepting is that they do not have the same rights as most of the other Americans who serve alongside them.
“We’ve suffered many casualties in every campaign that our unit, our island, our national guard, or even our army reserve went to,” Patrick Jesus Flores says. “Casualties have happened in every campaign. And up until this day we’re still hoping for the right to vote.”
Because Guam is officially an unincorporated US territory, its residents are deprived of certain voting rights enjoyed by people from the 50 full-fledged states of the Untied States.
As a result, even though they are US citizens, Guam residents cannot vote in US presidential elections. They also have no representation in the Senate and their sole delegate in the US House of Representatives is not allowed to vote on the passage of legislation.
Both Patrick Senior and Patrick Junior say on deployments they’ve watched all the other soldiers cast their ballots.
“We’re so outcast,” the younger Flores says.
Voting rights are what he and his father want more than anything else from the country they have devotedly served.
They argue that the US citizens living on Guam should have the right to vote for the commander-in-chief who may one day send them into harm’s way.
“We wear the same uniform on our heart on our chest. It all says US Army. That’s what it says. It says US Army, it doesn’t say Guam’s army,” says the younger Flores.
“We are owed the right to vote,” his father says.