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American Ambassador to Japan visits Okinawa

Date Posted: 2005-07-02

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan— During a recent visit to Okinawa, the US Ambassador to Japan, John T Schieffer, sat down with local, internal media here June 17, to answer questions on the future of US military in Okinawa and to comment on the relationship between US troops and Okinawans.

Schieffer began the press conference with a message to troops from President George W. Bush.

“I would like to thank all the troops for their service on behalf of the president,” Schieffer said. “The president told me whenever I ran into American military to be sure to convey to them his sincere and heartfelt thanks for the service they give to the country. The president is very proud of what our troops are doing, not only here, but around the world, particularly the ones who have been in harms way. Every American should be proud of them, and I certainly think the president is first among all Americans in that regard.”

This was the ambassadors’ first visit to Okinawa. During his visit, Schieffer met with local Okinawan government officials, toured historical sites on the island, and met with U.S. troops stationed on here.

“(I want to) get a better feel of what Okinawa is all about,” Schieffer said.

When asked about his view of each military branch’s respective role on Okinawa, Schieffer emphasized that the Armed Forces is a team and strongest when it operates with solidarity. He highlighted the 2005 Tsunami relief efforts of Combined Support Force 536 as an example.

“The different services are equally important in their humanitarian and military efforts,” Schieffer said. “I think the work that was done with the tsunami relief is some of the proudest work that any of us could be associated with, and my hats off to all those who participated here.”

Reporters asked for Schieffer’s opinion on the current relationship between the U.S. and Japan and about the relationship between individual service members and Okinawan citizens.

“The relationship is the best it’s ever been,” Schieffer said. “In conversation after conversation today, talking to individual Americans who are stationed here, they talked about the warmth and kindness of the Okinawan people. To me, that kind of anecdotal evidence is pretty important. It tells me that Americans and Okinawans can be friends and are friends.”

“The more interaction (between service members and Okinawans), the better chance of friendship,” Schieffer added.

One of the biggest topics at the press conference was base realignment and the future of American bases on Okinawa. Also discussed was how these changes may affect U.S. troops stationed here.

“When people talk about (base realignment) they always talk about the burden,” Schieffer began. “It is a burden, for Okinawa and the U.S service members stationed here. It is a shared burden.”

“The current talks (between the U.S. and Japan) are aimed at reducing the burden,” Schieffer explained further. “We want to eventually reduce the American footprint in Japan without losing military capabilities. We are looking for an agreement both governments can deal with.”

Schieffer stressed that military posture in this part of the world is invaluable; it contributes to the stability of the region, Schieffer explained. The service members here are right on the front line of the Global War on Terrorism. This area of the world can be quite dangerous at some times.

The future of the bases is still in the works, it is important to remember we have to meet the challenges of the 21st century, Schieffer concluded.

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