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NEWS | May 6, 2024

Guam Guard Recruits jump from 3 to 75 in the Northern Marianas Islands

By Mark Scott, Guam National Guard

Guam National Guard troops hailing from the neighboring Northern Marianas Islands have increased 2,400 percent from three in 2022 to 75 in 2024. Driving this effort is Sgt. Juan Camacho, heavy equipment operator with the 1224th Engineer Support Company and native of Saipan.

Camacho is also a local swimming champion and community organizer for youth sports events. He is the sole recruiter for the National Guard in the Northern Marianas.

“It all comes down to relationships, honesty, and pride.” said Camacho. “I was born and raised in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands, and being involved with the community has definitely paved the way.”

The CNMI is an unincorporated territory and commonwealth of the United States consisting of 14 islands in the western Pacific. The majority of the 47,329 residents live on the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, and share ethnic Chamoru culture and ancestry with neighboring Guam.

Both Guam and the NMI are still recovering from the effects of recent Category 4 typhoons and the COVID-19 pandemic on their tourism-based economies.

Camacho was given orders to be a recruiting assistant on Saipan in 2022, tasked with advertising the presence of the Guam Army National Guard. Unsatisfied, he felt he could do more, so he went to recruiting school and graduated Commandant’s List.

Now in his first year as a fully qualified recruiter, Sgt. Camacho has already exceeded his recruiting mission just a few months into fiscal 2024 and he doesn’t plan to stop.

“The mission was just the warm-up,” Camacho said. “I’m looking to set the bar and maintain the pace to become recruiter of the year. The grind doesn’t stop there.”

In April, the Guam Guard command team visited Saipan to meet with NMI political leadership, visit with Guard troops in the recruiting pipeline, and discuss recruiting issues. Brig. Gen. Michael Cruz, adjutant general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Celso Leonen, command senior enlisted leader, praised Camacho for his good work but underscored the need to prepare for the surge in recruits.

“It’s obviously a good problem to have, and Sgt. Camacho is a posterchild of everything a Soldier should be,” said Cruz. “But we as a command have to take care of these Soldiers and support them properly. If we don’t, it becomes a ticking time bomb.”

Other than Camacho, there are currently no administrative support personnel available for troops in the NMI between drill weekends. Other challenges include lodging and transportation for troops while in Guam for drill, procuring a recruiting storefront in Saipan, and using Federal Tuition Assistance for higher education institutions on Saipan.

While plans to address these challenges are underway, Camacho says he is not deterred from his mission. He plans to push for even more community events to promote recruiting, develop a family readiness group, and continue bringing opportunities for a better life to the people of the Northern Marianas.

“The CNMI has always sought to prevail through the greatest of challenges,” Camacho said. “Thanks to the Lord above, my beautiful family, and my leadership both in the Guard and my local government, I am blessed to be able to mentor the next generation of leaders.”