2005 in review, Japan and Guam: From fighting wars to taking part in disaster relief, an eventful year
As 2005 opened, U.S. servicemembers throughout Japan were deploying or logging extra hours assisting in one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts the world ever mounted. Before the year would close, most major U.S. commands in Japan would have new leaders and the Navy would announce that its oldest active-duty warship, the USS Kitty Hawk, would be replaced at Yokosuka Naval Base with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. In a sweeping change, Washington and Tokyo defense officials would announce plans to realign U.S. bases and forces throughout Japan, some of which will involve building up Guam.
For the U.S. military in Japan and Guam, this was 2005:
U.S. forces mount a massive relief mission after the Dec. 26 South Asia tsunami. By early January, more than a dozen military cargo planes fly food, supplies and equipment to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Some 20 U.S. Navy ships, including the USS Fort McHenry from Sasebo Naval Base, also support the mission.
Nuclear-powered submarine USS San Francisco strikes an uncharted undersea mountain about 350 miles south of Guam, killing one sailor and injuring 23. Cmdr. Kevin Mooney is removed from command. In another accident, Sasebo-based mine countermeasure ship USS Patriot runs aground on March 19 near Chinhae Bay, South Korea. No injuries are reported but the Patriot sustains serious damage. On May 7, Cmdr. Kurt E. Hedberg replaces Patriot skipper Lt. Cmdr. Mike Little.
A year of deployments begins when 300 troops from Misawa and Yokota air bases leave for Southwest Asia. Also in January, 35 Navy masters-at-arms from mainland Japan head for the U.S. military detainee facility on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On May 10, more than 40 troops who have been in Southwest Asia for eight months return to Misawa, but in September Pacific Air Forces prepares to deploy 1,400 airmen.
Solar flares knock out the satellite broadcasting American Forces Network in the Pacific. Officials switch to a secondary satellite, prompting broadcast schedule changes and a need for off-base customers to change decoder configurations.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service announces its midgrade gas prices will decrease from $1.99 to $1.96 per gallon, beginning a year of roller-coaster fluctuations as AAFES tries to keep pace with U.S. pump prices. This also is the first full year AAFES adjusts gas prices monthly in Japan, not yearly. In another pricing change, AAFES eliminates monthly coupons and takes 25 cents off the price of every gallon starting in June. With NEX price changes generally following suit, AAFES increases midgrade unleaded fuel prices 10 cents a gallon on March 1 and another 21 cents on May 1. In September, AAFES insulates Pacific motorists from stateside fuel prices soaring to over $3.10 a gallon, but on Oct. 4, AAFES hikes its price 47 cents per gallon, citing its cost increases. Then, on Dec. 1, AAFES drops prices as much as 28 cents a gallon.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet making a night landing on the USS Kitty Hawk snaps the arresting cable and tumbles overboard, injuring six on deck and significantly damaging a helicopter. The pilots are rescued and escape serious injury. In another Kitty Hawk mishap, on Nov. 2, a 19-year-old sailor’s left leg is amputated after being pinned under the wheels of an F/A-18.
In the first of several major command changes, Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright becomes head of U.S. Forces Japan, the top U.S. military position in Japan. On June 17, the Air Force announces Brig. Gen. Salvatore “Sam” Angelella will succeed Brig. Gen. William “Bill” Rew as Misawa Air Base and 35th Fighter Wing commander. On April 28, Capt. Michael L. James hands Sasebo Naval Base command to Capt. Tilghman D. Payne. On June 1, Air Force Col. Mark Schissler turns over 374th Airlift Wing command at Yokota Air Base to Col. Scott P. Goodwin. On July 26, Capt. Garry Mace assumes control of Atsugi-based Carrier Air Wing 5 from Capt. Joseph Aucoin. On Sept. 7, Rear Adm. Arthur J. Johnson takes Patrol and Reconnaissance Force Fifth/Seventh Fleet command at Misawa Air Base from Rear Adm. Kenneth W. Deutsch. On Sept. 9, Rear Adm. David Gove turns over command of Submarine Group 7 and commander task forces 74 and 54 out of Yokosuka to Rear Adm. John M. Bird. And on Sept. 29, Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe hands over command of Naval Forces Japan to Rear Adm. James D. Kelly.
Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Paul V. Hester says President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2006 defense budget includes several construction projects at U.S. bases on Guam, such as a new high school at U.S. Naval Base Guam and an AAFES complex at Andersen Air Force Base. But on March 1, Pacific Air Force wing commanders are told to curtail spending in nonmission-essential areas in the face of mounting war debt.
The USS Vincennes moves from Yokosuka to San Diego, destined for decommissioning in June. The USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, replaces the cruiser at Yokosuka.
Yokota commander Schissler sets a restriction forbidding base personnel from being in “Bar Row” in nearby Fussa city from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. following a series of incidents involving base personnel. His successor, Goodwin, leaves the restriction intact.
Guided missile destroyer USS Stethem becomes the latest arrival to Yokosuka Naval Base.
Misawa again wins the 2005 Commander in Chief’s Installation Excellence Award, making it the Air Force’s top base and recipient of $1 million for quality-of-life projects.
The 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base learns its C-130Es will be replaced by sleeker C-130Hs as soon as October 2006, a move that will bring 125 more airmen and their families to Yokota.
The Yokota Enlisted Club learns it was named the Air Force’s best enlisted club.
Saying some 250 non-U.S. submarines are believed to be in the Asia-Pacific region alone, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Gary Roughead says anti-submarine warfare is his top priority.
The Navy announces the conventionally powered Kitty Hawk is to be decommissioned in 2008 and replaced at Yokosuka by a Nimitz-class carrier, the first nuclear-powered carrier to be deployed to Japan. The Navy later announces the replacement carrier will be the USS George Washington. The announcements trigger numerous protests among anti-nuclear and anti-military groups.
Runways at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni will be used for both military and commercial aircraft operations, base officials say. No timetable is announced but a new $2.2 billion runway under construction in Iwakuni won’t be completed for about four years, engineers have said.
Top U.S. and Japanese officials announce a sweeping realignment of military forces. Plans call for 7,000 Marines to move from Okinawa to Guam and carrier jets and E-2 Hawkeye aircraft to be relocated from Atsugi to Iwakuni. A joint U.S.-Japanese operations center would be set up at Yokota Air Base, and components of the U.S. Army’s I Corps would move from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Camp Zama, among major shifts. The plans spark anti-base protests at Yokosuka, Yokota and Zama.
President Bush meets with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Kyoto. Koizumi draws fire from local officials opposed to the military realignment plan when he says “Japan’s prosperity is based on peace and security” and that the country “has to pay the necessary costs” for the defense pact with the United States.
With about 400 fewer students attending 20 Department of Defense Dependents Schools throughout mainland Japan this year, DODDS-Pacific officials say some schools may have to go to multi-age classes.