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Regional agreements expected to save lives

Date Posted: 2004-07-01

MARINE CORPS BASES, JAPAN, Okinawa — Marine Corps officials here granted limited humanitarian access to the Okinawan communities of Ginowan and Urasoe June 21 and 28, respectively.

The agreements are likely to save lives by giving Okinawan emergency personnel limited vehicular access through Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Camp Kinser that could save up to 20 minutes in first-response time.

Futenma’s agreement for limited humanitarian access by Ginowan City emergency vehicles was signed by Brig. Gen. James Flock, deputy commander for Marine Corps Bases, Japan, and Ginowan City Mayor Yoichi Iha at Futenma's headquarters building June 21.

"We believe this agreement will lead to quick responses to save lives because the humanitarian (access) will reduce transport time for emergency vehicles," Iha said.

This issue was first discussed in 2000 through a meeting between a U.S. military and Japanese government joint committee. It started when local officials asked if they could use U.S. military bases as a shortcut to respond to emergency situations, according to Lucy Gushiken, community relations’ specialist for Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.

"With Futenma in the center of Ginowan City, emergency vehicles have a difficult time quickly responding to urgent situations because they always have to detour around the station," Gushiken said. "This new agreement will save 10- to 20-minutes time for first-responders."

Although the signing of the agreement marked the official availability of the station, the effectiveness of this agreement may not show its full potential for some time. This is due to the closure of gate one, which is currently under renovation, according to 1st Lt. Matthew Beatty, assistant operations officer for MCAS Futenma's Provost Marshal’s Office.

“Presently, the Marine Corps Base Fire Department is in the process of familiarizing the Ginowan City firefighters and paramedics on how to maneuver through the station by following designated routes to reach the gate closest to the emergency situation,” said Beatty.

The agreement is also a means of strengthening the bond between Okinawans and the U.S. military, something Futenma is continually trying to improve, according to Beatty.

Camp Kinser’s Limited Humanitarian Access Agreement was renewed for the third time at the Urasoe City mayor’s office June 28. Flock presigned the revised agreement and was represented by Col. James A. Kessler, camp commander for Camp Kinser. Urasoe City Mayor Mitsuo Gima signed his portion of the agreement and concluded the event with an encouraging speech.

“Since 2001, we have used this agreement many times,” Gima said. “The people of Camp Kinser have a good understanding of how important cooperation is to the people of Urasoe City. I hope we can develop this relationship here on out.”

Kessler also sees this agreement as a way to continually improve the relationship between Okinawa and the U.S. military.

“I see this agreement as a win-win proposition for Urasoe City and Camp Kinser,” Kessler said. “It is good for the camp because it demonstrates our willingness and desire to support Urasoe City.”

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