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Military Bases Are Not Shopping Malls

Date Posted: 2001-01-12

It was very disturbing and upsetting to read the comments by Dominic in your Jan 5th issue about the American Military bases and the restricted access to them. First and foremost, let no one forget they are, have been, and will continue to be MILITARY bases. Kadena Air Force Base and Camp Foster are not shopping malls, they are not grocery stores, and they are not entertainment centers. From Camp Kinser all the way to the Northern Training Area, the American Military bases are here for the U. S. service member, Department of Defense (DOD) employees, and their families. This is not an Okinawa exclusive issue. Even the American Military bases located in the United States have restricted access. Not just anyone with an American citizenship can just stroll on base and go where they wish and do what they want. In fact, Americans that are not DOD employees also have to be signed-on and escorted around base. This is not an issue of Okinawans not allowed access to American bases, but an issue of non U. S. military having restricted access to American bases. The writer of the original story stated "I can hear the replies stating how the military assists the already struggling economy by throwing their money at off base establishments.” But couldn't the same be said for the Okinawans that would throw their money at establishments on the bases? This is true, the American Military members do spend a considerable amount of money on the Okinawa economy, and I am sure this is a welcome help to many local establishments. The other side of that statement is that the establishments on the bases are not here solely to turn a profit, but to provide a service to the American service members. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service states that it's mission is to provide quality merchandise and services at uniformly low prices to its 8.7 million customers at military installations in the United States, Europe and the Pacific. The original writer continues on to say that unrestricted access to bases would not be a security risk due to the fact that "most restricted areas on the bases are surrounded by fences and are off-limits to any unauthorized person." This is true in the fact that the whole base is off-limits to any unauthorized person, and is surrounded by fencing for that reason. The statement made next said that entrance to the base is easy and that non-SOFA status personnel can easily gain access to the base. If this is true, then why is it such an issue that Okinawans can't gain access to the base?

As an alternate suggestion, the writer stated that perhaps the American Military members should be required to have a sponsor before they are allowed off base. In a manner of speaking, they are. This sponsorship is the American Government. American Military members are required to go through classes giving information on legal issues, cultural differences, and local customs and courtesies before they are covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). This is the military’s way of educating its service members on how to conduct themselves while off base. Yes, the system is not perfect, and there are a few service members that do not learn from this system. However, there is a much greater number of military members that not only obey the laws, but also help the Okinawan community and its people.

One of the most disturbing comments made in the original letter is when the writer tried to paint a "Club Med" picture of Okinawa. Yes, Okinawa is a culturally rich island, but for many Americans, this island is small, over populated, and depressing. Depressing in that fact that we are taken from our families, friends and loved ones. This loneliness is multiplied by the fact that we are thrown in a foreign country half way around the world, where we don't know the language, the culture, or the customs. For many military service members, this move comes before the age of 20 years, which is still a young age, and an impressionable one. Being stationed away from everyone you know and love, being put in a place where the only glimpse of home is a PX, living on an island as small as Okinawa, spending holidays away from home, and not to mention the almost constant anti-military demonstrations around the island and terrorists attacks across the globe is not a "one to three or more year vacation." With all due respect to the people of Okinawa and Japan, being stationed on Okinawa is not, by far, the best duty station in the entire military. On the contrary, many Marines feel it is more towards the bottom of the list. The American Military bases are located on Okinawa for world wide strategic purposes. It is a real misfortune that they have to be here and have taken land from Okinawan farmers, but they provide more stability in the region than problems. They are not here to provide a service of shopping and dining to the local community.

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