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‘Unwanted’ Marine helicopters return home to Futenma base

Date Posted: 2005-04-07

A Marine Corps helicopter squadron returned home to Futenma Air Base over the weekend, despite demands from Okinawa government officials they stay away.

The helicopters were stationed at Futenma when called away for deployment to Iraq last fall. The 22 helicopters involved, some CH-53D’s, are assigned to support the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. A CH-53D crashed just outside Futenma last August, shortly before the unit deployed to the Middle East.

Both Ginowan and Okinawa Prefecture leaders had insisted the helicopters not return to Futenma, but instead be sent to the United States or someplace outside Japan.

Protesters gathered outside Futenma with placards demanding “Yankee go home!” The brief demonstration was st aged by the Ginowan Municipal Employees Labor Union and the Okinawa Peace Activities Center.

The military ignored the protesters, but note they’d adhered to the request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, which had asked that all helicopters and planes returning to Futenma be carefully inspected prior to their return. Major General Timothy Larsen, a former Marine Corps Base Okinawa commander now Deputy Commander of all U.S. Forces in Japan, assured officials “rigorous preflight checks are performed prior to every flight.”

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha continued his campaign against the Marine base, demanding the Marines take their helicopters and go home. He was carrying a banner at the demonstration which read “Don’t fly over our city’s airspace.” Governor Keiichi Inamine expressed his displeasure as well, calling the American decisions “ignoring the wishes of the Okinawa Prefecture Government and the sentiments of our people.”

Two of the helicopters landed at Kadena Air Base instead of Futenma, triggering an outcry from Kadena’s mayor. Tokujitsu Miyagi was upset at not having been informed. “I do not understand why they have come here,” he said. Military officials later explained the two helicopters are being shipped back to the United States from Kadena later this month, and it was easier to simply land them at Kadena rather than make a second flight from Futenma to Kadena.

American authorities say the controversial CH-53D Sea Stallions will have limited roles at Futenma for now, restricted primarily to “those necessary for operations.”

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