KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Remington has two words of advice for his replacement: “Hang on!”

“He’s in for the ride of his life,” said Remington during a recent interview at 18th Wing Headquarters. Remington ends a two-year tour as commander on June 24.

“It’s the biggest combat wing, definitely in the Pacific and, arguably, in the world,” Remington said. “There’s 25,000 people on this base on any given day. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Remington will hand the command to Col. Jan-Marc Jouas, who has been selected for promotion to brigadier general. Remington leaves Okinawa to become deputy director of politico-military affairs for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

The former Air Force Thunderbirds pilot called his time on Okinawa “magnificent. Kadena is a huge organization and it’s not just the 18th Wing — it’s Team Kadena, which includes the (Navy’s) Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa, the 353rd Special Operations Group, the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, the 390th Intelligence Squadron, the 82nd Reconnaissance Squadron, everything else. I think that the teamwork that the folks at Kadena display, no matter what service they’re associated with, no matter what organization they’re associated with, is outstanding. We’ve had huge accomplishments.”

During the past two years, the 18th Wing has transformed into an Air Expeditionary Force and then rolled right into a war footing with airplanes, men, women and equipment participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom, pushing the operational tempo of the base to new limits, he said.

And during that time the wing also went through operational readiness and compliance inspections, receiving excellent marks for both.

“We proved not only to ourselves, but to the world and to the rest of the United States Air Force, that what we do here is right,” Remington said. “That what we are doing is correct and the way we train, the way we organize, the way we equip our people, is the right thing to do so that we are ready to go at a moment’s notice when the nation calls.”

He said Team Kadena also made great strides in community events, especially sponsorship for the past five years of the Special Olympics.

“We’ve had a full plate and I think we will continue to have a full plate,” he said. “It just does not slow down. Then you find time for the Special Olympics — it’s just amazing.”

This year’s Special Olympics, Saturday at Kadena High School, will feature 700 special-needs athletes, about 130 special-needs artists and more than 1,200 volunteers.

“It is a shining example of how the teamwork from the military can influence the local population for the better of the local population,” Remington said. “It says volumes about the character of the people that we have here.”

Remington said the increased operational tempo has affected people living on Kadena.

“We are seeing signs of stress on the families and we are doing something about it,” he said. “Our Life Skills folks have been extremely busy in the last 18 to 24 months — busier than they were in the past.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people in this wing that have been deployed for 179 days at a time and that wears on a family.”

Fortunately, Remington said, the Kadena community is more closely knit than the stateside bases he has been assigned to. “There’s more of an informal support system.”

One of the highlights of his tour, and part of what he’ll miss the most, is the friendships he has made in the Okinawan community, Remington said. He said he built strong relationships with the mayors of the three municipalities that surround the base.

“I know they have gained my trust and confidence and I think I have gained their trust and confidence, so that we can work out issues, work through issues and try to find solutions that benefit both the local population and the military,” he said.

He said he has found that “many Okinawans understand that it’s a very complicated world that we live in today and the peace and stability in the region is a good thing to have, but it takes work.”

“We’re doing a very good job, regardless of how the world goes,” he said. “The U.S.-Japan bilateral defense agreement is most certainly the most important bilateral defense agreement in the Pacific and arguably the most important bilateral defense agreement in the world for the United States.”

The general said he looks forward to coming back to Okinawa some day, especially to visit with some of the Okinawans he has come to call his friends. He fondly remembers sitting informally next to Okinawans, helping make the rope that later would be used in the world’s biggest tug-of-war in a festival in Naha, and sharing their culture.

“I know I will miss Okinawa,” he said. “I’ve loved it here. I love the people, I love the culture and I loved the mission.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now