Marines’ move from Okinawa to take years

The U.S. military is now projecting finishing the transfers of some 4,700 members of the Marine Corps here to Guam by 2020 and another 3,700 to Hawaii by 2026.

The latest dates were provided by Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, in written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.  “Based on the current planning estimates,” he says, “we anticipate the movement of Marines to Guam by 2020 and to Hawaii by 2026.”  The essence of his testimony is that the transfer of some 9,000 Marines stationed here won’t be completed until 2026 at the earliest.

Under the Japan-U.S. Agreement, the relocation of Okinawa Marines to Guam was supposed to happen in 2014.  Delays in construction of a replacement airfield for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station caused revisions that didn’t specific a deadline, only noting that the “personnel transfer will be completed as soon as possible after 2014.”  Locklear proposes a “focused approach be adopted for the identification of required resources” for the relocation process to be accelerated, and indicated the need for “resource investments” to support the U.S. Forces Japan realignment.

Pacific Command says Locklear’s statements are based on assumptions both environmental impact assessment of facilities to be constructed for Marines moving from Okinawa, and construction of the facilities will progress smoothly.

The realignment and relocation process could take longer than Locklear expects, because both environmental work and facilities construction may be delayed.  A PACOM spokesman notes it is unclear how strongly cuts in U.S. defense spending will affect the relocation plans.