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JSDF-protecting Okinawa and opening doors for job searchers

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-06-06

The burden of defending Japan from a hostile attack may fall on the shoulders of the United State's Military, but they are not alone in their job. It is the mission of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) to protect this country from any type of attack, and to assist in the event of a natural disaster when necessary. It is not a military force, but is classified by law as a special branch of the government. Its membership is completely voluntary, and like the United States Military, it has gone through a few changes over the years.

The JSDF was first started in July 1, 1954, and is comprised of the Ground Self Defense Force, Maritime Self Defense Force, and the Air Self Defense Force. All three divisions work in coordination to accomplish their mission. The Ground Self Defense Force has approximately 150,000 personnel, while its Maritime and Air Self Defense Force units each have approximately 47,000 and 48,000 members respectively. Among some of the requirements for entrance into the JSDF is an age requirement of at least 18 years and no more than 27, along with at least a Junior High School Degree. Master Sergeant Tohru Maeda of the Air Self Defense Force also explained that "The test to enter is difficult, and there are difficult stages to pass to become an officer."

One of the biggest changes in the JSDF over the past ten years is the increase in women and University graduates. In 1995, women numbered over 10,000 in the JSDF, and their jobs are no longer limited to the medical field and just office work. This year 25% of all applicants for the JSDF were University graduates, showing a dramatic increase in the level of education among new recruits. "The JSDF has become much better in terms of benefits over the years. We used to have a high rate of personnel quitting after just a few years, but recently many are opting to stay until retirement," said 15 year veteran Maeda.

The history of the JSDF on Okinawa is not as long as that of the mainland, having began in 1972, after the reversion of the island from the United States Government back to Japan. All three divisions are represented on Okinawa, with the majority of the JSDF on Okinawa in the Air Self Defense Force. The job of defending the country has also been greatly improved with the help of some changes. In 1996 the NAIKI surface to air missile was replaced with the much more accurate Patriot Missile. Naha Air Base, being the largest JSDF facility on Okinawa, carries out a variety of functions, including rescue missions in cooperation with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and the Ground Self Defense Force. The Air Self Defense Force, whose members total over 3,000 on the island, also has control over two radar stations located in Yozadake and Itoman. Patriot Missile stations are also in their control at Onna-son and Chinen-son.

The Air Self Defense Force is required to protect all of Okinawa Prefecture, Amami Oshima, and the islands in between. Airmen perform their duties and train here on Okinawa with about twenty five F-4 Fighter Jets. They also have approximately ten T-4 Blue Impulse Fighter Jets in their command, which is the first jet fighter to be "totally designed with Japanese technology and built by Japanese companies," according to the Air Self Defense Public Affairs Office. Rescue operations are carried out by different helicopters and other aircraft, such as the CH-47J and the V-107.

The Air Self Defense Force, along with the other divisions of the JSDF, are also busy promoting themselves through recruiting, public appearances and much community volunteer work. Trying to create a better image here on Okinawa is not easy, considering the bad memories of the war many islanders still have. Shuzo Mori, a 27 year veteran of the Japan Air Self Defense Force explained, "It's the same as locking your doors when you leave the house to keep out thieves. We are here to protect the country, but we're not the same as the military. I often tell people, who associate us with war, that if there is a war, we would be the first ones to go, so it's definitely something we do not want to happen."

Lately, schools, who in the past would shut their doors to any members of the JSDF, are becoming more receptive to having members come to speak to students about employment opportunities. Like the United States Military, it offers a variety of training and career fields, which has made it a popular employer during the recent economic troubles within Japan.

Personnel have also volunteered their time for beach cleanups and other community projects to help form better ties with the Okinawan community. Two big carnivals are also held every year, which are open to everyone on the island. July 24 is the day for the annual "Summer Festival", and the "Air Festival" will take place on November 22.

The JSDF has come a long way since its first days of operation in 1954. It has also become more involved with world-wide peace keeping missions, despite long standing laws that had prohibited sending any personnel of the JSDF to foreign countries. However, most Japanese citizens, including the JSDF members themselves, have no desire to become a "military" force. Their mission will be to continue as a defensive force, and to provide assistance with other world-wide peace keeping efforts.

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