Iwakuni residents voice concerns at forum

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 24, 2008

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Jennifer McCarthy tried nine times in October to get her daughter into air station day care, but on only two of the days was there room for her.

Now, because the service is unreliable, McCarthy doesn’t make doctor or salon appointments unless her husband can spend his lunch hour with their daughter.

"Child care on the base is bursting at the seams," she said Wednesday during a rare town hall meeting here.

Base child care, Internet service, food options and individual augmentee deployments all have been on the minds of Iwakuni residents since the last town hall a year ago, according to comments submitted for the public forum. The meeting drew about 150 people to the station chapel and was broadcast on TV and radio.

Air station commander Col. Michael O’Halloran and base staff fielded the questions and concerns, which were collected during weeks of advertising the meeting.

The Iwakuni air station, with about 5,000 residents, is slated to double in population by 2014 due to a military realignment plan with the government of Japan. That could add to the need for such services as child care, O’Halloran said.

From the input at the meeting, the commander said he sees there’s already a problem with child care.

O’Halloran said he held the forum to improve life at the air station, though some issues may remain a fact of life in Iwakuni.

Food establishments and Internet service both have been hampered because outside businesses doubt the profit potential of the isolated — and for now, small — air station, O’Halloran said.

The base recently opened the Strike Zone, a Corps-funded entertainment complex with Pizza Hut and A&W eateries. But larger dining chains, such as Macaroni Grill or Chili’s Grill & Bar, might have to wait until the base population swells in the realignment, he said.

Meanwhile, the existing Crossroads food vendors — Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King — remain popular. Each week, a fifth of the base population eats at the Crossroads food court, said Dave Haigh, director of Marine Corps Community Services Iwakuni.

While Internet providers have shied away from setting up business at the air station, a cable Internet fiber optic system is going up around the base.

Building 1200 will have cable Internet within two months and five new barracks buildings — 335, 656, 657, 1210 and 1209 — are slated to be connected to the cable Internet system by 2009, Warrant Officer Edward Cutshall said.

The strain of sending individual Marines to assist the combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is also a burden the air station must shoulder, O’Halloran said.

Operation Iraqi Freedom "is an insatiable manpower beast," O’Halloran said.

The air station has seen a slight increase in the number of individual augmentees deployed over the past year and has been working to cover the loss in manpower and to support families, according to the public affairs office.

From more than 500 in the headquarters squadron available for augmentee duty, 18 are deployed, officials said.

Lou Genzer, one of the family readiness officers now attached to each unit at the air station, said families experience more stress when their servicemembers deploy as individual augmentees instead of with a unit.

Augmentee families often feel they are going through a deployment alone, so the base is focusing on connecting them with other IA families and providing specific services, Genzer said.

O’Halloran said the base has received many responses from residents through the electronic Interactive Customer Evaluation System, which allows public comments, including anonymous comments, on a spectrum of military services.

"I am convinced everybody is giving the best shot they can within the budget that is available — you just might not know it," he said.

Jessica Arroyo, a Marine Corps spouse, speaks at a town hall meeting Wednesday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. It was the first town hall at the air station in a year.