Fun, not fear, on minds of most in Pacific as holiday weekend kicks off
Despite a string of overseas bombings and a heightened terrorism alert level in the United States, most residents at U.S. bases in the Pacific say they are more worried about barbecues than bad guys.
“I just hope it doesn’t rain this weekend so that we can have our barbecue on Memorial Day,” said Joyanne Cruz, whose husband is assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk. “We’ve been planning this as sort of a late welcome-home party for him and our other friends on the ship, so I hope the sun comes out.”
A surge in communications intercepts, public statements attributed to senior al-Qaida leaders and recent attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia led the Homeland Security Department this week to issue an “orange alert,” the second-highest threat level.
According to The Associated Press, the Defense Intelligence Agency advised regional commanders and stateside military installations to raise their threat level from “significant” to “high,” the highest level in the DIA’s alert system.
U.S. military officials in the Pacific declined to comment on whether security was being increased at installations in the region, saying that bases were at “appropriate” force protection levels.
Officials have said that strikes on “soft targets” overseas — including shopping malls, restaurants and public gatherings — are more likely than large-scale attacks on American soil.
“That isn’t even in my head,” said Seaman Joe Macomb, munching on a sandwich while watching an NBA playoff game Thursday in the food court of Yokosuka’s Fleet Recreation Center. “Me and my boys are going to get a case of beer, sit in the park and do nothing. I’m not worried about bombings or something.”
Many base residents said they’ve become used to heightened security and the possibility of an attack.
“Regardless of location, whether it be here or stateside, there is an element of risk present, and we are all susceptible to some sort of terrorist act,” said Sam Miller, Sasebo Naval Base Human Resources Office director.
“While the risk may be somewhat greater for those of us working and living on and around military installations, I think the security efforts at those installations have increased in proportion to the greater risk. I feel as safe in Japan as I would feel anywhere in the U.S.”
Jim Whalen, Sasebo’s safety manager, said he was confident in the anti-terrorism measures. “I feel personally safe working and living in Japan,” he said.
So does Theresa Wright, a fifth-grade teacher at E.J. King School in Sasebo.
“I am not fearful of the new developments around the world,” she said. “I feel very safe living and working in Japan. I also feel very safe on U.S. military installations. Our troops are doing their best in protecting Americans and our national interests.
“I don’t plan to panic about events that I have no control of during these stressful times. I will continue to have faith in my God and country.”
Meanwhile, many in South Korea see terrorism as a secondary threat. Pfc. Antwon McAllister looks at it as a possibility but thinks the more tangible likelihood is an attack from North Korea.
“How I see it, if it just happens, it happens,” said McAllister, of the 304th Signal Battalion at Camp Long in Wonju. “As far as terrorism goes, I feel safe. I have no worries.”
Spc. Michael Grigsby agreed, saying he has no fears in South Korea and doesn’t see the worldwide threat as any worse now than it has been.
“I really don’t think it’s that serious,” said Grigsby, who is stationed at Camp Hovey. “Everything has calmed down. Everything is over with. We will have our eyes still open.”
For Erik Edwards, the heightened terror threat in the United States affects him only if the military bases on Okinawa go into a state of heightened alert.
“I don’t really pay much attention to the terror level back in the States, actually,” said Edwards, 51, who operates a lawn care business.
“What bothers me is how hard it is to get past on the bases when security is increased,” he said.
Edwards, married to a teacher, has lived on Okinawa since 1998.
“Things were pretty bad just after 9/11,” he said. “I hope the security levels don’t go up here.”
— Joseph Giordono, Jeremy Kirk, Greg Tyler and David Allen contributed to this story.