Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Importance of the U.S. Military on Okinawa

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was an article on the Internet today stating that a new agreement between Japan and the United States will result in 9,000 U.S. Marines being moved from Okinawa to new duty stations in Guam and Hawaii.  The article went on to say that this move will help to assuage the feelings of the Okinawans, many of whom reportedly do not want the U.S. military on their island.  The readers' comments that followed the article, however, painted a different picture of the American presence on Okinawa.

The United States has had troops on Okinawa for the past sixty-seven years.  During the first twenty-seven of those years the island was actually under the control of the United States, but authority over Okinawa was ceded back to the Japanese government on 15 May 1972.  I remember that day well because I was living on the island when the reversion to Japanese control occurred.

Not everyone is happy with the continued military presence of the United States on this small island.  Some local residents of Okinawa do want us to leave for a variety of reasons including, as stated in today's article, some criminal activity committed by our troops against local nationals over the years.  Barney Frank, a congressman from Massachusetts, has been openly critical of our country having troops stationed on Okinawa.

But for every nay-sayer, there are several who want us to stay.  There are numerous U.S. bases, particularly on the southern half of the island, and many of the employees who man the restaurants, bowling allies, theatres, and even offices on these bases are Okinawan nationals.  Thousands of Okinawans draw their pay checks directly from the United States government.  Add to that the money that Americans spend in the local shops, markets, and housing offices each day, and it is readily apparent that America has a profound impact on the economy of Okinawa.

Even when the 9,000 Marines leave there will still be thousands and thousands of service men and women stationed here.  And there is also a thriving civilian community of Americans, many of whom married Okinawans and elected to spend their retirement years on this beautiful island.

Yes, some Okinawans want us to leave, but my sense is that their number is far from a majority.  Far more seem to have a desire to keep us right where we are.

I had Friday off, and I used that day to take care of quite a bit of personal business.  Early in the morning I drove to Torii Station, an Army base, and spent over an hour talking to a very nice Okinawan lady who is in charge of my civilian personnel record.  She was trying to arrange my transportation back to the United States this July.  Following that, I drove south to Kadena Air Force Base where I went to the post office and mailed a large package to my grandson.  The clerk who handled the transaction for me was a young Okinawan man.  Next I stopped at a McDonald's off-base for a sandwich.  The lady at the drive-through switched seamlessly from Japanese to English when she heard my voice over the intercom, and I noticed several cars with American plates in the parking lot.  My next stop was at Camp Foster Marine Corps Base where I had to pick up a couple of things at the local quick stop.  Again, it was an Okinawan at the check-out counter who rang up my purchases.  And my final stop that morning was at Lester Naval Hospital where I went to visit a friend.  I saw several local nationals working at that hospital as I made my way to my friend's room.

Sixty-seven years is a very long time, but America will not have a military presence on Okinawa forever - and when we are gone, I suspect that we will be sorely missed.

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