RECENTLY, our delegate to Congress, Ms. Bordallo, characterized Senator Jim Webb’s stance on Okinawa troop reallocation as conveying “false hope” on the military realignment. Webb contends that there are better ways to resolve the Okinawa situation than a wholesale move of some 17,000 Marines and dependents to Guam, and other strong voices in the Senate echo his sentiments.
In his letter on the subject to Defense Secretary Panetta, Webb reminded Panetta of, among other things, “strong interest” on the part of the Senate as evidenced by recent actions relative to the 2012 Defense Authorization Act and the 2012 Military Construction Act. He suggests that Panetta keep that in mind as he discusses the issue with Japanese officials, which reads like a thinly-veiled reference to the power of the Senate to constrain and promote: to make ultimate decisions on just how, when and where such significant military events will occur.
One thing that caught my attention in Webb's letter was his reference to the possibility of "sharing non-American aviation facilities" in Japan. Some may recall that we once had two large Air Force bases in Okinawa – Kadena and Naha. Control and ownership of Naha AB aviation facilities (the airfield) transferred to the Japan Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF) when Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972. Other base elements (housing, schools, exchange, commissary, recreation, and other “people type” activities we'd normally associate with an Air Base Group or Support Group) remained under U.S. control for several years, phasing down gradually. I'm familiar with the situation then because I was the Naha Base Engineer from June 1972 until December 1974.
It may well be that Webb and others are considering a joint-use arrangement involving Naha, which seems reasonable. The big obstacle there is the inevitable adverse reaction from the Naha-area civilian population, something we constantly experienced 40 years ago in the form of protests outside the base gates and fences. The Communist Party was strongly represented there then, though I'm unsure of how much influence they may have today. In any case, opposition to a move of U.S. military flight operations into the Naha area would be inevitable.
The scenario Webb promotes seems reasonable. He advocates integrating Futenma Marine air activities with Air Force operations at Kadena, where we’ve had a well-established flying mission for more than 50 years, and reassigning some of the Kadena Air Force elements to Andersen. That could be of significant economic advantage to Guam – perhaps not to the extent of the original proposal, but we must acknowledge that the original troop movement proposal is probably now dead or due for some radical surgery. Sharing the Naha airfield facilities with the Japanese could also dilute adverse effects of the U.S. flying mission there.
It would be good to again have some assigned Air Force aircraft at Andersen, which hasn’t been the case since the B-52 alert aircraft left many years ago. For one thing, it might enhance opportunities for those of us who habitually travel across the globe as space-available passengers.