MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
As the United States military rebalances in the Asia-Pacific region, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, continues to transform through a multitude of projects driven by the Defense Policy Review Initiative.
The DPRI redefines roles, missions and capabilities of alliance forces and outlines key realignment and transformation initiatives, including reducing the number of U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa, enhancing interoperability and communication between the two countries’ respective commands, and broadening cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defense, according to the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Throughout a span of seven years, construction efforts will transform approximately 77 percent of the station’s 1,633-acre footprint, in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture, with construction occurring on 1,267 of those acres.
This transformation, which costs more than $3.5 billion dollars, will enhance the U.S.-Japan alliance’s capability to meet new threats and diverse contingencies and, as a whole, will reduce burdens on local communities, thereby strengthening security and ensuring the alliance remains the anchor of regional stability, according to the Security Consultative Committee’s Transformation and Realignment for the Future.
Locally, Iwakuni residents will experience a reduction in noise and benefit from several shared-use facilities. In order to relocate the station’s runway a kilometer farther from Iwakuni City, the Iwakuni Runway Relocation Project, as it has come to be known, required construction workers to “reclaim” approximately 500 acres of land from the sea. In order to accomplish this task, workers used ‘earth’ removed from Atago Mountain to reclaim the area for the runway relocation project.
One of DPRI’s burden reduction efforts is the relocation of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 from MCAS Futenma, on Okinawa, to MCAS Iwakuni, on mainland Japan. This Transfer of the KC-130J Super Hercules and the Marines attached to VMGR-152 will reduce the Marine presence in Ginowan City, Okinawa, by approximately 15 aircraft and 350 personnel.
With the arrival of VMGR-152, MCAS Iwakuni will have increased capabilities, to include aerial refueling and assault support, and will also be able to provide humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief support. Since summer 2012, the "Sumos" of VMGR-152 have been involved in both exercises and real-world operations throughout all of their Area of Responsibility, to include, but not limited to, Hawaii, Alaska, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia and Mongolia.
The majority of construction on the air station has been to prepare for the arrival of VMGR-152 and, eventually, Carrier Air Wing 5 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi; to relocate Marine Aircraft Group 12 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12; and to enhance the quality of life for station residents.
“2017 is the bilaterally agreed target relocation date for CVW-5,” said Brian Wottowa, DPRI program director. “We are working extremely hard with our Japanese partners to complete and deliver the required facilities in time."
In order to make way for the units’ arrival, 1,306 new structures are being built from the ground up.
Currently, there are 164 projects ongoing, 45 percent of which support increasing the station population. One project supporting this goal is the continuing development of the Torii Pines Neighborhood, which is currently under construction at the site of the former station golf course.
“We are building 1,054 new family housing units, without a single additional mid-rise building,” said Wottowa. “The housing is a mix of single and multiple family units including rowhomes and duplexes. They are designed to provide a small yard for everyone and appear similar to the style of Alexandria Virginia. These new homes are one of the biggest benefits from this program.”
The 80-acre community incorporates an easily accessible skate park, a fenced backyard for all housing units and a Town Center, which is a first for installations in Japan. The center consists of retail shops, a major franchise restaurant and a new temporary lodging facility.
Along with the new neighborhood, several quality-of-life facilities will surround the outer perimeter of the neighborhood.
“The one thing we wanted to do is to make everything walkable,” said Myke Payne, DPRI planning and coordination chief. “On one side, you have the commissary, the Command Assembly Hall and the Child Development Center. On the other side, you have the schools along the border of the area. Essentially, everything you need from a family point of view is within a five-minute walk in the Torii Pines Neighborhood.”
Plans for the new schools include two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. The new schools will be equipped with roof-mounted solar panels, for energy efficiency, and two track-and-field facilities.
The Command Assembly Hall will replace the Sakura Theater, the station’s current movie theater. According to Payne, it features a 3-D projection screen with surround sound.
In addition to a new movie theater, the Command Assembly Hall will accommodate religious services and provide several reservable conference rooms.
Along with base housing and other family-oriented facilities, newly-constructed barracks will replace the former MALS-12 facilities, following the squadron’s move closer to the new flightline. The projected completion of the additional bachelor housing is scheduled for December 2016 and will add an additional 1,610 rooms for the increase in unaccompanied service members.
“Under the Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation, the Government of Japan provides facilities and we provide the warfighting capability,” said Wottowa. “The way that we fulfill that deal is that the Marines are here, but they are operating out of buildings provided by the Government of Japan. Once they provide those buildings, then we have a duty to maintain them.”
In spite of the constant construction around base, the DPRI initiative strives to not interfere with service members’ jobs.
“The construction has inflicted some pain associated with changing traffics routes,” said Lt. Col. Gordon Limb, MCAS Iwakuni executive officer. “The station and the tenants have risen to the challenge of dealing with the inconvenience. We are still launching and recovering aircraft and supporting the mission to make sure that MAG-12 and (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) can go out and execute the mission.”
To some people, it may seem that buildings go up overnight. However, planning, and, in some cases construction, began years ago. One of the most important and challenging obstacles of the entire project was finding area to build upon.
“You have to go way back to just developing the land,” said Lee Seeba, Iwakuni Program Director, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Here, we didn’t have any place to grow, but we found a way to take a mountain top off, put it in the sea, create the land, move our runway and then build behind it, all while we remained operational.”
While the amount of construction alone isn’t unusual, the amount of construction on such a small installation is the most amazing part of the DPRI effort, said Seeba.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s probably the most unique project I’ve been on, because we have done this all when the base has been operational. With this amount of placement on one base; you’re basically building a new base.”
Seeba added that the majority of all construction overseen by the Japan Engineer District, which covers Japan from Okinawa to Misawa, and all the bases in between, is done right here at Iwakuni. The JED resident office in Iwakuni oversees between $360-460 million worth of construction a year. This sum is equivalent to a US Army Corps of Engineers resident office in the United States, which covers an area of approximately 10 states.
In order to accomplish this task, coordination and collaboration between MCAS Iwakuni, DPRI, JED resident office and Japanese construction workers is critical.
Seeba accredited the cooperation and level of work to a long-standing relationship between the JED resident office Master Labor Contract employees and Chugoku-Shikoku Defense Bureau.
“For the past 20 years, a certain level of work was expected,” said Seeba. “The construction workers know what we want and that’s what has gotten us the quality of construction today.”
In order to complete a project of this size, many workers, and materials, must come and go through MCAS Iwakuni’s gates on a daily basis.
“We have about 1,500 workers on site and that’s about what you need to build at the rate of a million dollars a day; that’s a good-sized project site,” said Seeba. “I wouldn’t say its complex, because I’ve built everything here at some point in my career, but trying to do it all at once, here, that’s the tough part. The Japanese are wonderful workers; I’ve never seen a harder-working group of workers.”
During the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-constructed MAG-12/MALS-12 compound, Marine Corps generals Maj. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, commander of Marine Corps Installations Command, and Brig. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, commanding general of the 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, applauded the hard work put into the construction and said they look forward to the capabilities of the new facilities.
“Maj. Gen. Ayala and I have seen a lot of military construction efforts in our day, and this tops those efforts that we’ve seen around our Marine Corps ten times,” said Rudder. “I think this represents safer, more capable hangars on Iwakuni, but it also represents the strength of what has been a 50-year alliance between Japan and the United States of America and what that has done for the region.”
With the majority of the transformation concurrently underway, service members and residents stationed at Iwakuni can expect continued construction. However, when the dust settles, MCAS Iwakuni will be more operationally capable and accommodating to its families than ever before. Moreover, it will more fully represent the anchor point of the commander in chief-directed Pacific rebalancing.