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You Don’t Understand

Date Posted: 2001-01-12

The problem of allowing Okinawans access to military installations is not the real issue. It is not Okinawans that are restricted from military installations but CIVILIANS, both American and Okinawans. This is not only an issue here in Okinawa but also in America, civilians, even in our own country, are not allowed free access to military installations. Here in Okinawa and also on bases in the United States military dependents, who live on base, are not allowed access to many areas and even MILITARY PERSONNEL who do not have proper authorizations are restricted from access to certain areas.

A military installation is not a shopping mall, park or tourist attraction. The installation exists for one reason only and that is to support the personnel, equipment, and training necessary to protect and defend the people and country in its area of operation. I will address your issues with the facilities on the bases with several facts. Yes, there are the commissaries and exchanges (PX) that only military personnel and their dependents have authorization to use but again this is not a restriction for Okinawans, it is all civilians. Our own Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters do not have access either. At this point you may ask if that is true (which it is) why are they so restricted and the reason is simple.

Most items and services in these facilities are offered to military personnel and dependents at cost or a reduced costs. This may not seem fair to you on the surface but you need to understand that military personnel, especially those in the junior ranks, are paid far less than their counter parts in the civilian sector. Many military families live from payday to payday and some only make it by working second jobs or receiving government or civilian assistance in the form of what amounts to plain old charity. Also it is true that there are such facilities as the food courts but your statement that they exist only to make a profit, is not true, their primary purpose is to provide an affordable touch of home to military personnel and their families, far away from their loved ones and friends. It is not that anyone is trying to keep the “American cuisine” away from the Okinawan people because I’m sure that if the desire to open those establishments existed someone with the money (certainly not me) would have done so and I offer McDonalds and KFC as examples.

I would now like to address the statement that concerns me the most. As to the statement that Americans are here on a one to three year vacation at “Club Med” I can assure you that is not what most of them think at all. Contrary to what some may believe, most Americans are here without their spouse, children other family and friends and would rather be home. Even those that are lucky enough to have their spouse and children here are still away from their Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, homes, cars, personal property and everything else they know. Yes they did sign up for this and they will meet that obligation but that does not make this a vacation but rather a responsibility. Please do not take this the wrong way, I love Okinawa and the Okinawan people. I have been here for 15 years and don’t think I would want to live anywhere else but I am the exception, not the rule. In the same light most Americans do appreciate the chance to visit Okinawa and see your wonderful culture but that is only because they know it is temporary and that they will be going home soon. It is almost impossible to explain the military families’ life, it is not an easy one, the hours are long, the work is hard, the deployments long and lonely and the pay well, it just down right STINKS. Most Americans will show up at the airport on the day of their rotation back to the United States with great big smiles on their faces, glad for the time they had in Okinawa but far more glad to be going HOME.

As for the statement about Americans and Okinawans’ paying the same in road taxes, I agree that they should but I would also remind you that the SOFA agreement is done by the Japanese and American governments. Please don’t blame the individual for what our governments do, the individuals will pay whatever they are ask to pay and I can tell you that most do not even know there is currently a difference. I would like to end by saying Thanks to all for the opportunity to live in such a wonderful place and meet such wonderful people as I have in Okinawa.

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