As Japanese in the surrounding city prepare to vote in a referendum Sunday on base realignment, Marine Corps Air Base Iwakuni officials are encouraging servicemembers to speak to media about being stationed at the facility.

“In the build-up to the vote, we are anticipating national and international media visiting the local Iwakuni area,” said base spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton. He said servicemembers approached by media are free to “take the time to speak with them about your personal feelings in regard to being stationed here and how you feel about the community we share.”

But, he added, servicemembers also have been told to direct any questions asked them about national policy to Marine public affairs officials.

The nonbinding referendum is intended to measure opinions about a proposal to transfer Carrier Air Wing 5 and about 1,600 military personnel from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to the Iwakuni base, home to more than 3,000 Marines and about 60 aircraft.

Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara “has made his stance clear that he would follow the outcome of the referendum regardless of the result,” said Nobuyuku Takashima, chief of the city’s military affairs office. Takashima said if residents reject the realignment proposal, the mayor would demand plans for it be withdrawn.

Officials have estimated such a transfer could occur sometime in 2009 after completion of an offshore runway to be built partially on reclaimed land. But details of that plan also have generated controversy and remain under U.S.- Japanese discussion.

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