MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan --
A total of 24 Iwakuni City assembly members, Chugoku Shikoku Defense Bureau officials, Okinawa Defense Bureau officials and Ginowan City Council members visited Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan, Marine Corps Installations Pacific, to conduct a study tour, July 16, 2015.
The tour began with a command brief by Lt. Col. James Hurd, executive officer for MCAS Futenma. The purpose was to help deepen the distinguished guests’ understanding on national security here, and the mission of MCAS Futenma in support of III Marine Expeditionary Force’s aviation warfighting capabilities.
Iwakuni and Ginowan city both support U.S. military forces in their respective cities, and thus share a mutual bond of having a military-civilian community. Fifteen KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft belonging to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, called the “Sumos,” were relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, August 26, 2014, mitigating impact to the Futenma area.
“This is my fourth visit to Okinawa and we, in Iwakuni, want to help mitigate the impact the Okinawans feel,” said Toshiyuki Kuwabara, chairman of the Iwakuni City Council. “We previously promised that we would accept these aircraft. Although there were some opposing opinions over this movement in our city council, there are no problems concerning this matter.”
Kuwabara said he hopes some of the negative impact has been lifted from Okinawa. As for growth in Iwakuni city, he mentioned the citizens have an understanding to cooperate in order to maintain national security.
“From the Iwakuni residents’ perspective, there is no particular burden with the additional aircraft,” he said. “As well, I hear the Okinawan citizens appreciate the cooperation that we have in Iwakuni.”
No longer home to VMGR-152, Futenma is now primarily a tilt-rotor and rotary-wing installation. Helicopters cannot travel lengthy distances with ease and it is critical to be co-located with the ground forces they train with and support on a daily basis. But with the “Sumos” in Iwakuni, air traffic aboard the Futenma station has drastically reduced.
“Flights have decreased with the departure of the C-130s but the mission of Futenma has not changed,” said Hurd. “We still have our airfield that is unique because of the length of the runway, and how it’s strategically 75 meters located above the sea level, which not only benefits the U.S. but the United Nations as well being that Futenma is designated as a U.N. facility.”
MCAS Futenma is designated as a U.N. airfield in case of crisis or disaster in Okinawa.
While MCAS Iwakuni continues to grow, Kuwabara stated that in Iwakuni, citizens take the stance to co-exist with the military because they understand the mission of the Marines.
Hurd expressed his sincerity when he said “we’re doing our best to be good neighbors” and by mentioning how the air station maintains integrity of the Japanese cultural heritage located on the island. The station also hosts a plethora of joint events and legal agreements with Ginowan City to foster the two’s friendship with functions such as the annual Flight Line Fair, Ginowan City Annual Traffic Safety Campaign Relay Run, athletic events, beach clean-ups, gatherings with local organizations and a safe passage for the citizens to high ground in case of tsunamis.
The tour ended with the guests visiting CH-53E “Super Stallion” heavy lift helicopters, MV-22B “Osprey” medium lift tilt-rotor aircraft and UC-35D Cessna. Kuwabara said he hopes Ginowan City can understand the importance of the U.S. military presence here and how the alliance between the two nations is a key element as long as both sides are willing to compromise and understand one another. Hurd agreed saying, “We meet regularly with city officials to hear their concerns and work together to find solution”.