America Fest returns to US air base on Okinawa after nearly a decade
Stars and Stripes April 21, 2023
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – The Air Force is attempting cultural diplomacy by opening this U.S. installation’s gates for the general public for the first time in nine years.
America Fest 2023 is scheduled 2-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday with helpings of American culture, Grammy Award-winning musicians, food trucks, fireworks and plenty of U.S. military aircraft, 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. David Eaglin told reporters Friday.
Organizers expect as many as 70,000 people from all over the world to pass through Kadena’s gates, Eaglin said. The event is touted as a chance for Japanese and other foreigners on Okinawa to meet and mingle with U.S. service members, learn about their mission in Japan and see the 18th Wing’s aircraft up close.
“This is not happening in China; this is not happening in Russia; this is not happening in North Korea,” Eaglin said. “We have to connect with the community. I think as we connect with the community, that helps strengthen the alliance.”
America Fest can be traced to July 4, 1956, and an event called the Carnival of Carnivals, 18th Wing spokesman Staff Sgt. Juan Torres Chardon wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes on Friday. The event was held at the commander’s discretion; the last event was in 2014.
Eaglin, who took command of America’s largest combat air wing in July 2021, did not schedule the event during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020.
“I think it’s important to move the alliance forward and bring the community out,” he said.
The event will take place on a portion of the Kadena flight line. Tents were rising and aircraft were being towed into place Friday. An F-15E Strike Eagle, E-3 Sentry, KC-135 Stratotanker and RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft were already in place.
Colbie Caillat, a country singer and songwriter from California, is scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by fireworks at 8:45 p.m. A Bruno Mars tribute band, 24K Magic, will perform Sunday.
Juggling and acrobatics demonstrations, balloon art and hip-hop dance are also planned. The III Marine Expeditionary Band pop ensemble will perform at 6 p.m. both days.
A science technology engineering and mathematics fair in one hangar will display more than 20 projects by the base’s various squadrons and organizations, Torres Chardon said. The exhibits will include casualty care and environmental sampling demonstrations, a latent fingerprint collection at a mock crime scene and an inside view of an F100-PW-220 Turbofan engine.
Thirty food trucks will also be on hand offering everything from alcoholic beverages to lemonade, barbeque, tacos, turkey legs, burgers and hot dogs, fried Oreo cookies and Japanese food, according to the Kadena Force Support Squadron website. No outside alcohol or coolers are allowed.
Americans in Japan under the status of forces agreement can enter the base through Gates 2, 3 or 5 using their base ID, then take a shuttle to the festival site, the website said. The shuttle will run starting at 11:30 a.m. from Kadena Outdoor Recreation, the drive-through ATM at the Schilling Community Center or Kadena Elementary.
Japanese citizens are asked to enter through Gate 4 beginning at noon. A driver’s license, My Number Card, passport or health insurance card with another photo ID is required.
Non-Japanese citizens are asked to stop by the Gate 1 visitor center with their temporary or permanent residency card or a passport and a pre-registration receipt, available on the Kadena Air Base website, to get a base pass before entering through Gate 4. All entrants are required to submit to bag check and pass through a metal detector prior to entering.
Camera lenses with 300 mm magnification or greater are prohibited, the website said.