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Giving US Military Community Relations a Lady Face

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 1999-12-24

It is no secret to anyone that the US military presence on Okinawan soil has often been a major source of controversy. Local media focus in the past portrayed mostly negative issues, and rarely paid any attention to the positive aspects of what, in the final analysis, has become the fruitful coexistence of two major cultures on one small island. 1995 proved to be a hard year for relations between the military and the local Okinawan community, when 3 Marines raped an Okinawan schoolgirl. The rape incident dominated the headlines in local newspapers and in the US media, and became a cause of angry protests outside base gates.

In response to the backlash created by the incident, each military base created a position of Community Relations Specialist to help heal the wounds of the past, and to focus on creating conditions for better understanding in the future between the two communities.

Many observers are in agreement that a large part of the US Military’s recent success in managing its relations with the Okinawan community can be attributed to these Community Relations Specialists. Three women, among others, have worked very hard, and continue to do so, to build a firm bridge of understanding between local officials and military leaders. Japan Update hereby recognizes the contribution of Patricia Sakihara, Community Relations Specialist for the Air Force, Ichino Kuba, CRS for Camp Kinser and Anna Taka, CRS for Torii Station, to the new bond of mutual understanding between the US forces they represent and the local community hosting them.

Patricia Sakihara

Patricia Sakihara, age 25, was born and raised in Okinawa. She attended elementary and high school at DoDDs and received her undergraduate degree in Asian Studies at the University of Maryland. In June of 1997, Ms. Sakihara transferred from CE to the Public Affairs office on Kadena Air Base, and has been working as the Community Relations Specialist since then.

A large part of her duties involve building understanding between the Air Force and the municipalities that surround the base. Arranging exchange visits to local facilities like orphanages, and translating for commanders at press conferences when the Media Chief is gone, are some of her responsibilities. Introducing Americans to Okinawan Culture is also a part of her job requirements. “We like to show members of the military that they can impact the economy and that there are many things to see off base. It is General Smith’s philosophy that Kadena should be a ‘base without fences’.”

Because Ms. Sakihara grew up in a multicultural environment (her father is American and her mother is Okinawan), she is able to understand the unique differences between the two cultures. “The best part about my job is that I get to meet a lot of people and I am able to introduce Americans to Okinawan culture and vice versa.” At the same time, the most difficult thing for her could also be the mere fact of introducing different cultural ideas and ideals to others. “Sometimes, it is just difficult to explain to someone why things are done in a certain way in another culture.”

Ms. Sakihara attributes much of the current success in Kadena Air Base public relations to the leadership of the Air Force, in particular that of General Smith and the Public Affairs chief, Col. Brian Hoey. Neutral or fair coverage of incidents by the local media has been the result of their good work and has also been key in building up the current state of relations.

Ichino Kuba

Ichino Kuba has been working for the past 2 and half years at Camp Kinser, striving to bring two communities together. Ms. Kuba has her work cut out for her. She has lived nearly all of her 30 years (except for 2 years in Tokyo) here in Okinawa. While translation is a main part of her job, Ms. Kuba also coordinates exchange visits to local nursing homes and orphanages. She also serves as a guide for the Japanese Defense Forces when they visit the Marine Base for a weeklong exchange program.

“The great thing about my job is that I get to meet so many people, especially those in high positions. Because Japan is still a ‘man’s society’, few women have the ability to be up front in the community.” Ms. Kuba loves the fact that she meets many different people and that she doesn’t have to sit at a desk all day; she is truly a people person.

The most difficult aspect of her job, she says, is that she is sometimes forced to remain neutral on issues that others may have strong opinions on. “Because I work for the Marines, but I am paid by the Japanese Government, I have a better understanding of the issues. It is difficult for some people to understand the importance of the military to Okinawa.”

Ms. Ichino has also taken advantage of her position to bring light causes that are personal to her, like the hardships of Japanese Orphans. “It is my job to melt the ice between the two communities by breaking the language and cultural barriers. It is also important to me to be able to bring attention to important local issues. I love my job and I am very proud of what I do.”

Anna Taka

Anna Taka, Community Relations Specialist at Torii Station, has been working for the Army base in Okinawa since 1991. Married to an active duty military officer, now stationed at Yongson Army Base in South Korea, she is the mother of 3 children. She has lived in Okinawa all of her life, and she too has a deep understanding of the cultural differences that exist between Americans and the Okinawan people.

One of Ms. Taka’s responsibilities is also that of translation. A large part of her work is also devoted to cultural exchange, and the Army is very active in the local area of Yomitan. Part of the Army’s community outreach includes visiting senior citizens’ homes, visiting facilities for the mentally challenged, and organizing exchanges between American and Okinawan school children.

“The best part of my job is that I get to meet a lot of people and I learn something new everyday.” One thing that also poses a common difficulty for Ms. Taka is the requirement to remain neutral while dealing with many cultural stereotypes. “Okinawa is not like what you hear or read in the media. Okinawan people are very friendly and most of them like the American military,” Ms. Taka affirms. She also attributes the recent success in their efforts at better community relations to the fact that the military leaders now have a better understanding of the local culture.

Ms. Taka says her job experiences have also brought her to better appreciate her own life’s gifts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Japan Update’s reporter also (repeatedly) contacted Ms. Robyn Tengan of Navy Community Relations for an interview; but by the time we went to press, she had still not given a favorable response. We are therefore not to blame for the absence of a Navy representative in this article.

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