Airman's carrying of M-16 off base sparks protest on Okinawa
By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2003
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — A base security officer, toting an M-16 rifle off base, sparked protest from Kadena’s mayor this week.
The airman, wearing his battle dress uniform, spent 20 minutes Sunday in the parking lot of a popular tourist spot, waiting for duplicate car keys to be delivered after he accidentaly locked his in his patrol vehicle, a Kadena official said.
“Such conduct causes unnecessary fear among tourists and local residents,” Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi said Monday. “In Japan, where guns are strictly controlled, people’s sensitivity to firearms is different from that of the United States.
“For our continued good relations, I ask the military to give consideration to this issue and not cause any unnecessary friction.”
Base security personnel are authorized to carry weapons off base to perform official duties, Kadena Air Base spokesman Charles Steitz said. Sunday’s incident took place across the street from “Security Hill,” where members of the base’s 18th Security Forces Squadron make random security checks.The hill is among properties Japan assigned to the U.S. Air Force but it lies outside the air base, along a section of its northern perimeter fence line.
For years, tourists have flocked to the hill to view the airfield it overlooks and watch U.S. planes take off and land. A four-story building, offering tourists a panoramic view of the airfield, opened in April. It’s directly across a four-lane highway along the base perimeter and past Security Hill.
For safety reasons, the security officer parked his vehicle in the establishment’s parking lot, Steitz said. He then made a security check of the hill and shot video of the area.
Steitz stressed the security policeman was performing authorized duties in the interest of base safety and security.
“I am well aware that patrolling around the Security Hill by the military is acceptable under the bilateral security treaty,” Miyagi said. “However, it is not desirable for an armed military official with no urgent necessity to walk around a civilian area.”
Japanese newspapers reported that some tourists expressed fear and were disturbed at the sight of the armed airman, complaining it signals Okinawa is unsafe.
The owner of Upkitty restaurant inside the new building said in the 28 years she’s operated restaurants at the site, she’s never seen an armed security guard patrolling the area. The owner, who declined to give her real name but called herself “mamasan,” said several tourists enjoyed seeing the armed officer; some even had their pictures taken with him, she said.
Steitz said in the future security personnel no longer will use the parking lot when inspecting the hill.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.