Departing Yokota commander praises 374th's motivation
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When Brig. Gen. Mark Stearns took command of Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing, the United States was six weeks into a global war on terrorism.
His tenure since Oct. 25, 2001, has been a whirlwind: Since then, Yokota deployed hundreds of people for Operation Enduring Freedom. The 11,000-foot runway was resurfaced. And Yokota passed one of its biggest tests in recent memory, the Combat Employment Readiness Inspection.
During an interview Monday, Stearns said his biggest accomplishment as wing commander was moving the wing and its mission forward during the hectic months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Wherever we were involved as a nation,” from Iraq to the Philippines, the wing was there, he said.
Although the wing and its tenant units withstood an accelerated operations tempo, motivation stayed high, Stearns said. Airmen were told “that what you’re doing makes a difference and is important.”
Along the way, the command pilot who came from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., earned his first star. “My family and I have truly been blessed, and we want to thank everybody,” Stearns said. “We’re going to miss it.”
He heads to Tucson, Ariz., next week where he’ll be 12th Air Force vice commander at Davis- Monthan Air Force Base.
Col. Mark Schissler, commander of the 463rd Airlift Group at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., will replace Stearns during a change-of-command ceremony at 9 a.m. July 8 on the distinguished visitors’ ramp.
Schissler will inherit two issues from Stearns:
• Using Yokota as a joint commercial-military airport and runway — President Bush opened the door to studying the idea during a recent meeting with Japan Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
As wing commander Stearns is not in a position to comment on the issue. “We’ll conduct studies as directed,” he said.
• Complaints about Yokota aircraft noise — For years, local residents have sued the Japanese government, which leases the base to the United States, demanding compensation for their suffering and calling for steps to reduce noise.
“We’re sensitive to that issue, and we do whatever we can to minimize those aspects,” Stearns said. “Overall, noise of aircraft has been reduced pretty drastically.”
During Stearns’ tenure, the wing adopted as its unofficial logo, the ancient Japanese samurai warrior, and identified with the samurai code, or bushido, which emphasizes loyalty, courage and honor.
That not only increased morale and a sense of unity among squadrons and groups, it “also allowed us to tie into the historic Japanese culture and build that friendship that we continue to do,” Stearns said.
The wing continues to work on its relationship with local communities, he said, adding he’s proud Yokota was again able to invite thousands of Japanese to the base for events such as Friendship Festival and Ekiden.
“Through my time here, the Japanese have been fabulous hosts,” Stearns said.