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Koki Kirihara was appointed in October as the Okinawa crisis management officer, serving as a coordinator among U.S. military and Okinawa officials, media and Tokyo government for accidents involving the military on Okinawa.

Koki Kirihara was appointed in October as the Okinawa crisis management officer, serving as a coordinator among U.S. military and Okinawa officials, media and Tokyo government for accidents involving the military on Okinawa. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

NAHA, Okinawa — A Japanese official newly appointed to act as a crisis liaison among the U.S. military, Okinawa officials and the media says he looks forward to the challenge.

Koki Kirihara, 41, was appointed in October by Japan’s chief cabinet secretary as the Okinawa crisis management officer, authorized to act as the “go-to guy” in the case of emergencies involving the U.S. military on Okinawa.

The Tokyo government created the post in reaction to the Aug. 13 crash of a Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter on the Okinawa International University campus, adjacent to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. After the accident, area residents and local officials complained there was inadequate communication among island officials, the national government and the U.S. military.

“I wear four hats in my position here,” Kirihara told Stars and Stripes in a recent interview in his office at the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs Okinawa Liaison Office.

“I am a crisis management officer from the Cabinet Office, but at the same time, I am involved with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Okinawa Prefectural Police, as well as the National Police Agency,” he said.

“This way, I am authorized to act as a representative of each of the organizations,” he said. “My other important job is to serve as a liaison between U.S. military and Japanese government.”

Kirihara comes from a police background. His previous position was as a director of the National Police Agency in Tokyo. His jobs included being Third Riot Police Unit chief for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and a stint as the assistant chief for the Drug Enforcement Division of the National Police Agency.

Referring to the helicopter crash, Kirihara believes the military, Okinawa police, Tokyo government officials and the local fire department all responded appropriately and effectively.

“But the person who should have served as a hub of communication of all parties was missing,” he said.

Lessons learned from the August crash could be applied to the future, he said, adding the best thing that could happen would be no more accidents and, thus, “no need for me.”

“However, should an accident occur, prompt and adequate response is required,” he said. For each party to fulfill its role and handle the accident without unnecessary confusion, preparations on a routine basis are important, he stressed. He said his first goal is to set up a joint council on accidents involving U.S. military on Okinawa, with membership including the ambassador in charge of Okinawa for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the director of the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau, the Okinawa Prefectural Police commissioner and himself.

“The purpose of the council would be to establish an initial response system and also to share information and recognition in case of a crisis,” he said.

He plans to eventually expand the network to the military and local communities.

“I want to build individual relations of trust with people in the military community,” he said. Once that is done, a candid exchange of opinions will be possible, he said.

Kirihara expressed confidence in his ability to establish good military relationships. He said his interactions with his U.S. counterparts as a drug enforcement officer make him comfortable dealing with Americans.

He said he spent six months in the United States in the mid-1990s as a visiting drug control officer.

“I learned crime-solving techniques at different investigative organizations, including the FBI and the Los Angeles and San Francisco police departments,” he said.

Kirihara said he was confident in developing a network to successfully cope with accidents involving the military. “It is our common and understood goal to seek prompt and mutually acceptable solutions,” he said.

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