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Group to protest shift of U.S. military exercise from Okinawa to Guam

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – U.S. and Japan efforts to quell public anger over jet noise on Okinawa are now drawing fire on Guam.

An indigenous rights group said it will hold protests this week on the island over the decision to shift some U.S. Marine Corps jet fighter training from Okinawa to the U.S. territory.

Taotaomona Native Rights, which represents ethnic Chamorros on the island, has slated rallies on Wednesday and Thursday in front of Andersen Air Force Base, the Guam legislature and the office of the territory’s congressional delegate, according to a news release from the group.

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The U.S.-Japan council on realignment agreed late last month to shift training planned at Kadena Air Base to Guam to ease the noise burden on Okinawa, where residents have long resented U.S. military air traffic from the largest U.S. air base in this part of the world. More than 20,000 residents are suing the Japanese government over the noise created by air operations at Kadena.

The training by Marines based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in mainland Japan started Friday at Andersen and will last through the end of the month. The training includes 20 F/A-18 Hornets and about 400 personnel from the Japan air station.

The Guam native rights group said it has created “awfully loud and harmful noise pollution.” A group representative could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

“The U.S. military, which includes the U.S. Marines, need to stop using Guam as their dumping ground and they need to treat the people of Guam with respect,” according to the released statement by member Trini Torres.

Torres called on Guam senators and Congressional Delegate Madeleine Bordallo to “stand up for the safety and protection” of residents and invited other island organizations to attend a peaceful series of demonstrations.

Andersen Air Force spokesman Capt. Timothy Lundberg said Tuesday the base takes all noise complaints seriously and has modified F/A-18 training in the past to reduce the burden on residents of the island.

“Anytime we get a noise complaint we take the info down … and we turn that info over to our operations support squadron,” Lundberg said.

So far, there have been no modifications made to the training by the visiting Iwakuni jets but the base will consider any ways to reduce noise that do not affect the operations mission, he said.

The U.S. and Japan have said they plan to shift more aviation training off Okinawa to cut down on noise here and about two to three exercises may be affected before March. Opposition to the U.S. presence on the island has been a source of friction between the two governments for years.

The bilateral realignment council has not yet disclosed where the Okinawa training might be relocated.

Meanwhile, Guam is at the center of the U.S. military’s plans for a massive expansion, which includes turning the island into a regional hub for the Marine Corps and Air Force in the coming years as well as separate proposals to expand training areas in the Pacific and possibly build an Air Force airfield on one of the islands surrounding the territory.

Many on Guam have welcomed an increased military role. But it has also caused widespread outcry from residents and civic groups who worry a military buildup could damage indigenous land and the environment.

A court battle is now unfolding over the U.S. military’s plans to build Marine Corps live-fire training ranges on land that contains Chamorro graves and archeological sites. Another island rights group, We Are Guahan, is suing the Department of Defense to stop the project and the case could be heard in December, according to the group.

The Navy is conducting studies on how dredging Apra Harbor, the territory’s main port, to make way for visiting aircraft carriers would affect coral there.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

 

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