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Marines to leave Okinawa…..maybe!

Date Posted: 2005-11-19

Thousands of US Marines will be redeployed to Guam as Japanese and American leaders work to reduce the burden on Okinawa Prefecture.

The headlines shouting the transfer of III Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters from Camp Courtney to Guam, together with 7,000 administrative, logistics and support troops, have generated a lot of excitement. The $4 billion plan would create new housing, schools, training areas, a hospital and even new bases in Guam, with troops beginning the move in 2008.

The agreement reached two weeks ago between the two governments calls for transformation to begin within a year. Lt. Gen. John Goodman, a former Okinawa Marine Air Wing commander who now leads all U.S. Marines in the Pacific, has told Guam’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Madeleine Bordallo, the entire move could be complete by 2012.

It sounds good, and Guam is excited, as are some Okinawans.

There is a catch though, and that could sink the entire deal.

Moving the Marines is linked to moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Ginowan City to Camp Schwab on the island’s northside, and that is anything but certain. While everyone wants Futenma out of the crowded metropolitan Ginowan area, seemingly nobody wants it anywhere in Okinawa.

Governor Keiichi Inamine is the point man in a crusade to stymie the Marines airfield move anywhere within his prefecture. Simply stated, he wants it gone completely.

The Oct. 29th agreement between Japan and the U.S. called for building the replacement airfield at Camp Schwab, with a 1,800 meters long runway to support Marine Corps air activities. The deal shifts some Marine aviation assets to mainland Japan, while keeping the helicopter units at Camp Schwab.

Richard Lawless, U.S. deputy undersecretary of Defense for Asia-Pacific Afairs, says the 2012 date is a target, but emphasized that there will be no Marines moved if the Futenma construction is not achieved. Obstructions to the Futenma relocation, Lawless says, “would dramatically slow the realignment of Marines to Guam.”

The Japanese government, meanwhile, is trying to expedite the entire military realignment. It’s agreed to provide a significant portion of the estimated $4 billion costs for building new facilities and moving the troops and equipment. Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukago is calling for speedy meetings with key government leaders within the next week to appropriate funds and begin discussions necessary to make the Japanese Government participation legal.

While Japan has actively contributed large amounts of money to maintaining and supporting U.S. forces in Japan, it has never put forth money to move troops away from the island nation.

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