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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The tour driver shouted for all students to get back on the bus but Jordon Haubert wasn’t going anywhere — not while two F-15s were seconds from landing.

It isn’t every day that Haubert and about 30 other college students from the United States get to see fighter planes in action.

“This right here is the sliced bread for me,” said Haubert, a student at Sul Ross State University in Texas.

The American students joined about 40 of their Japanese counterparts Tuesday as part of a trip sponsored by the Japan-American Student Conference, a nonprofit group that facilitates discussion by college students of a variety of issues important to both nations.

The group attended the recent peace ceremonies in Hiroshima and visited Kyoto before arriving on Okinawa this week, where they visited Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster on Tuesday.

They began their tour of Kadena Air Base with a mission briefing in which public affairs officials explained the base’s role in the Pacific and then took questions.

A student who said he was South Korean asked if Okinawa’s military protests were like the sometimes-violent protests in South Korea. Others asked about crime and legal rights for servicemembers, while one asked why Nissan Skyline vehicles seem so popular among airmen.

“The officer was very open and showed concerns to local problems, which improved my image of the military bases,” said Anna Franekova, who recently graduated from Harvard University.

Some of the American students had previous experiences with the military, including one National Guardsman. Others had little acquaintance with bases and said they were heartened to know that Kadena helps Asian countries in need.

“It was interesting to hear about all of the humanitarian work, and everything they do to help out in the community,” said Smith College student Melissa King.

More than 130 American students applied for the 32 available spots on the trip, said Regina McGarvey, the Japan-American Student Conference’s executive director.

The program is equally selective of Japanese students, many of whom expressed their excitement Tuesday.

“This experience is my lifetime treasure,” said Tomoko Nakajima of Keio University, who spent some of her childhood in the United States. “It is very strange to be here … military bases here are ‘Little America’ in Japan,” she said.

It’s important that military personnel remember to be good neighbors to the local community, Nakajima added.

The Japanese-American cultural exchange program began in 1934, then stopped during WWII before resuming in 1947. Each year, the students alternate visiting each country.

The program includes many notable alumni, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.


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