WASHINGTON — The future of the Pacific fighting force hinges on keeping Marines in Okinawa and abandoning proposals to move them to Guam, say members of the Overseas Basing Commission.
“Okinawa is the strategic linchpin in the Pacific region,” Commissioner James Thomson, CEO of the Rand Corp., said at a news conference Monday unveiling the group’s report on the future of overseas military facilities.
The report had leaked out on Friday, much of it reported in Sunday editions of Stars and Stripes.
“This is a matter ultimately of distance, how close one can be to the area of potential threat, either ones we already know about or ones that can emerge. The location of Okinawa from the point of covering those threats is much better than Guam. It’s closer.”
The commission has recommended that the Defense Department slow down the return of foreign-based troops to the United States, and specifically that most Marines currently on Okinawa remain there.
The report does recommend that the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station be relocated, either to Kadena Air Base or Marines Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
For the past two years, defense officials have discussed the possibility of relocating Marines off Okinawa, with rumors including moves to Guam, the Philippines or Hawaii.
Commissioner Anthony Less, a retired vice admiral who once commanded the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, said the facilities at Kadena offer enough space for the Futenma Marines to carry out their missions, so moving them away from the potential threats in the region would not be beneficial.
The report says that critical infrastructure and quality-of-life programs might not be available to units returning to domestic bases if defense officials keep up the current pace of the project, and urged the process be slowed until after full force and facilities assessments are finished later this year.