By Craig Lockwood, Special to the Independent
Touching down in Honolulu the Gulfstream jet could have been just another executive aircraft landing in Hawaii from somewhere in the vast Pacific.
Emblazoned with the Globe and Anchor of the United States Marine Corps—this Pentagon aircraft wasn’t arriving from Japan or South Korea, but Micronesia. On board was a third-generation Laguna Beach native and former Laguna Beach High School Class of 1970 Student Body President, Howard Hills.
During the last two years, Hills served as a Senior Advisor to a U.S. State Department-led treaty negotiation team now headed by a Special Presidential Envoy. Hills’ mission has been to support renewal of vital U.S. national security agreements with the strategically located nations of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands under treaties he helped negotiate decades ago.
“Micronesia’s islands were brutally contested during World War II,” Hills said. “Liberating them from imperial Japan cost 100,000 American lives. Today China’s apparently following Japan’s pre-WWII regional conquest playbook.”
Nationally recognized as a constitutional scholar specializing in democratizing America’s remaining island territories, Hills 2016 book, “Citizens Without A State” details Puerto Rico’s struggle for full self-government. His international law publications on relations with U.S.-affiliated nations of the Pacific are cited in Congressional reports and U.S. federal court rulings.
Commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy JAG, in 1981, Hills career was fast-tracked when the Pentagon realized the Navy had a JAG lawyer who’d previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the very islands where new U.S. strategic agreements were needed.
Having drafted constitutions and legal codes Hills was ideally cast for assignment as counsel for Micronesian treaty negotiations in the Executive Office of the President and National Security Council (NSC).
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral William Crowe, who’d served earlier on the Micronesia negotiating team and retained a keen interest in the treaties, mentored Hills.
“Crowe taught me our mission was maintain a defense presence structured to keep these islands out of the path of war,” Hills recalls.
With Admiral Crowe passed into history, a 2023 expiration of lynchpin provisions of the treaties approaching, and Chinese Communist Party agents reported as “active” in the islands, bipartisan White House and joint Congressional support emerged——making renewal of the alliances Hills helped shape, a foreign relations priority.
Hills, now as senior adviser for these crucial negotiations, continues offering the original legal thinking he displayed four decades ago, as confirmed by his receipt of the Defense Superior Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and Joint Chiefs Commendation Medal for his contributions as Lead U.S. Counsel during negotiation, ratification, federal court tests, and U.N. Security Council proceedings sustaining these treaties.
In 2020, Hills made an unsuccessful bid for school board. He remains active in civic affairs.
Not too bad for a surfer kid from Laguna Beach.
Craig is a lifetime member of the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Orange County Press Club.View Our User Comment Policy