Base leaders hope festival builds ties with neighbors
Stars and Stripes June 29, 2007
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — For Ayano Miyazato, the highlight of next weekend’s AmericaFest will be the colorful pyrotechnics.
"The fireworks at the festival are always breathtaking," said Miyazato, a 25-year-old dental hygienist from Nishihara.
After a four-year break, Kadena is opening its gates Saturday to give Okinawans a glimpse of life on the military base.
Coinciding with Independence Day, festivities will include a rock band performance, F-15s on display, carnival-style games and plenty of American fare.
Miyazato remembers attending the festival as a youngster — roaming the air base with her older sister, sampling hot dogs and jumping on a trampoline.
The festival was an introduction to American culture, Miyazato said last week outside a Chatan Starbucks.
Meeting Americans at the festival motivated Miyazato to learn English, and she plans to further her education in dental hygiene in the United States, she said. It’s sentiments like Miyazato’s that Air Force officials hope to capture again at the festival’s revival.
For the most part, military-sponsored festivals offer locals a rare chance to see some of the 11 major military bases on their island. The Marine Corps bases and Torii Station also hold festivals, with one at Camp Hansen scheduled July 12-13.
"It will give our neighbors a chance to see what we do and how we live, so we don’t appear as such a foreign entity all the time," said Kadena festival director Col. Michael Haas, commander of the 18th Civil Engineer Group.
In recent months, high-profile crimes committed by servicemembers shed negative light on the military, igniting protests and prompting complaints from local residents and officials.
Haas said the festival should offer a different perspective of the military, a more personal side.
"It’s a very small number within the military that get a lot of attention. We can certainly provide another viewpoint," he said.
Haas said he didn’t foresee the festival attracting protesters or an anti-American presence — just the curious.
AmericaFest started in 1958 as the Okinawa Carnival and was renamed in 1994, officials said. The festival was discontinued for security reasons after 9/11. The event resumed in September 2004, but festivities were dampened when a demonstration by the Air Force Thunderbirds flight team was canceled in the wake of a Marine Corps helicopter crash in Ginowan.
The festival will kick off on July 4, with a celebration for the U.S. military, DOD civilians, Okinawa nationals with base access, and their families.
Officials are expecting to attract crowds of up to 50,000 each day. The cost of the festival is estimated at around $200,000, officials said.
Eiko Kinuyama, 31, said she hadn’t heard about the festival, but the news might persuade her to bring her 1-year-old twin daughters to check out the scene.
"I remember I used to go to Kadena Carnival when I was in middle school and enjoyed eating lots of pizza — the big ones," said Kinuyama, who lives in Chatan.
The only drawback, she said, would be fighting the large crowds and heavy traffic on the roadways.
"But we might go. I want to eat the pizza again," Kinuyama said.
If you goAmericaFest at Kadena Air Base:
July 4: Open to DOD civilians, military ID card holders and Okinawa nationals with base access.
July 5: Open to general public.
Festival runs from noon to 9 p.m. both days. Gates open at 11 a.m.
Transportation: A free shuttle bus will run every 20 minutes from Chibana Golf Course starting at noon.
If driving: Cars will be escorted onto the base through the contractor gate from Route 74 and through Gate 4 from Route 58 onto the flight line.
Bags: Visitors are asked not to bring large purses, backpacks, sharp objects such as scissors and knives, or other weapons. Bags will be subject to search.
For more information, visit www.kadena.af.mil.