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Marines’ III MEF & 1st MAW HQ’s to stay in Okinawa?

Date Posted: 2010-07-20

Working with the notion the internal mechanics of the planned shift of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam aren’t cast in stone or concrete, Washington is discussing changes to the composition of units to head south.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula and with China are behind the discussions to keep the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) on Okinawa, rather than move the three-star headquarters to Guam. At the same time, sources within both the U.S. and Japanese governments are studying a review assembled by the military that would also keep the 1st Marine Air Wing Headquarters in Okinawa. Under the initial plan, there would not have been any Marine generals on the island, although the U.S. Navy has a lone one-star admiral at White Beach.

Under the 2006 Japan-U.S. Agreement, the III MEF Headquarters at Camp Courtney, the 1st MAW Headquarters at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, and 3rd Marine Logistics Group Headquarters now at Camp Kinser would all move south to Guam. U.S. officials reportedly have decided it is essential to keep a “command presence” on Okinawa instead of shifting the three main units, all commanded by generals.

Under the revamped concept, 8,000 troops would still go to Guam, but a similar size combat unit would move instead of III MEF and 1st MAW headquarters. The 1st MAW has helicopter and aircraft elements in Iwakuni, Japan, as well as Okinawa. The combat infantry regiment would be separate from the Marine-Air-Ground Task Force under which Marines are usually deployed overseas.

Keeping the two headquarters elements in Okinawa would, government sources say, enhance combat readiness and the ability to respond rapidly to events in the region. At the same time, the U.S. officials say shifting a combat unit out would reduce the burden on Okinawans by having fewer exercises on the island, and with it, a reduction in accidents and incidents involving Marines. Sustained combat operational capabilities of the air elements are said to be critical to quick reaction capability.

The U.S. has signaled the adjustments to troop elements being moved would not be impacted by the Futenma relocation to Camp Schwab in Nago City’s Henoko district. The U.S. is standing by its oft repeated statement that the northern Okinawa move is the “best policy” for Japan and the United States. Tokyo, thus far, has not reacted to the latest U.S. desires.

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