CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Just two days after an advance party of Marines returned to Okinawa from combat duty in Iraq, the mayor of Ginowan asked them to go someplace else.

Mayor Yoichi Iha visited with Marine officials on Camp Foster on Tuesday, delivering a letter protesting the impending return of Marine aircraft and personnel to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the heart of his city.

Marine officials on Okinawa had no response to Iha’s visit by Stripes’ Wednesday deadline.

Iha has been campaigning for immediate closure of MCAS Futenma since a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed Aug. 13 on the adjacent Okinawa International University campus.

The base is to close once a new air station is built in waters off northeast Okinawa, but Japanese officials say its completion is at least a decade away.

University president Tomoaki Toguchi accompanied Iha to visit the Marines and the Naha Bureau of the Defense Facilities Administration. Identical letters went to the U.S. Consulate in Urasoe, the prefectural government and the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Okinawa Liaison Office.

Iha and Toguchi met with U.S. Consulate General Thomas Reich, said Fuji Takayasu, a consulate spokeswoman. “The meeting was cordial. Both Iha and Toguchi presented individual petitions asking that Marine air units … not return to Futenma,” she said. “Mayor Iha also asked that Futenma air station be returned as soon as possible.”

She said Reich acknowledged that while some aircraft would return to MCAS Futenma, the pilots would use “flight routes which minimize flights over residential areas.” She said Reich underscored that the United States has agreed Futenma “should be returned as soon as possible.”

Yuji Miyamoto, MOFA’s ambassador in charge of Okinawan affairs, said he would convey Iha’s concern to officials in Tokyo.

“The reality that Futenma air station belongs to the Marine Corps remains unchanged,” Miyamoto told Iha, according to a MOFA spokesman. “The danger posed by Futenma air station is a perception shared by all concerned individuals and efforts are being made to resolve this problem.”

Although no civilian casualties were caused by the Aug. 13 crash, “Operations of the university have yet to be fully recovered” and some residents still suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome, Iha said.

“Once the Marine units return, there is no way for the helicopters to avoid the residential areas, no matter how the flight routes are altered,” Iha’s protest letter states. “Residents will once again be exposed to danger. It is absolutely unacceptable for the helicopter units to return.”

Early Sunday, some 170 Marines and sailors, most assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, returned from a rough deployment to Iraq in which 50 unit members were killed and 221 wounded while operating in the violence-prone Fallujah area.

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