Igei residents rally against training facility
KIN, Okinawa — About 250 residents of the Igei district of Kin, next to Camp Hansen, held a rally Wednesday to protest the construction of a $3.8 million U.S. Army Special Forces training complex on the Marine base.
The residents of the seaside district listened to speeches for about 90 minutes at the district’s community center, then walked a short distance to a locked back gate near the area where the training complex is to be built.
As community leaders spoke against the facility, their words were punctuated by volleys of gunfire from a nearby firing range, sounding like dozens of strings of Fourth of July firecrackers.
“Life in a quiet community like ours is already threatened by the routine firing noise from military training,” said Mitsuko Noborikawa, 35, who attended with her four children.
“I was shocked to learn that the military has such a plan,” she said. “I don’t want anything that would add more noise.”
Maki Igei, 23, said she grew up frightened in the shadow of the base.
“I was born here,” she said. “When I was little, I used to be very scared of the noise from the firing and the helicopters overhead. And I was often frightened by brush fires on the nearby mountainsides caused by the military training.
“It is absolutely not acceptable to have such a new facility so close to our community,” she said. “I came here today because unless we speak up, no one would know about this situation. … We have to have courage to stand up and make our voice be heard.”
“There is no way for us to accept the facility,” said Kin resident Kazuaki Sakiyama. “Military training damages trees and causes bush fires, like one that occurred two days ago. Repeated bush fire damages natural environment and pollutes our mountain water source.”
The project, to be built on Camp Hansen’s Range 4, on a hillside near Igei, would replace an aging training facility on Range 6 and combine drills currently being held on camps Schwab and Hansen by the Army’s 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, based at Torii Station. Other U.S. forces also would use the area.
U.S. officials said the training site — which is to include a “shoot house,” breaching bay, 50-meter flat shooting range, rappelling tower and administrative area — is being designed to minimize any impact on nearby residents.
Measures include a soundproof wall and use of a special absorbent material inside a building to prevent stray shots. Also, U.S. officials said, training hours would be scheduled to avoid early-morning and late-night hours.
Although Japanese media reports announced construction would begin by the end of this month, Army officials say no start date has been set.
From the stage outside the community center, Masafumi Ikehara, chairman of the committee that organized the rally, contended the nearby base has endangered Igei residents’ lives “for more than a half century.”
“In the past, numerous training-related accidents happened in our community,” he said. “Stray bullets landed in homes, farmland, playgrounds and highways. Repeated brush fires changed once a beautiful green mountain into [a] pitiful sight.”
No recent stray bullet incidents have been reported in the area. On Monday, a fire on Camp Hansen’s Range 5 seared 22 acres of the nearby mountain, Okinawa officials reported.
“In a time of peace, where else in Japan are people forced to live their lives in such a threatening environment?” Ikehara said. “Range 4 is only 300 meters away from our community. We are resolved to oppose the facility until the military withdraws the plan.”
Local officials said they learned of the project in November — and Okinawa’s governor and Kin’s mayor immediately objected — when U.S. and Japanese officials confirmed the U.S. Defense Department was funding its construction.