JASDF concludes investigation of fatal blast
January 16, 2004
NAHA, Okinawa — Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force concluded an investigation into an August explosion that killed a sergeant by reprimanding two officers stationed at the Naha Air Base.
The report concluded Master Sgt. Takio Tamura was solely responsible for the blast, which killed him Aug. 31 as he was cleaning decades-old surplus rocket-propelled grenades at a friend’s Okinawa City junkyard. But two generals were reprimanded to reinforce the need for closer supervision and guidance of all self-defense forces, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Kiyoshi Yada, 83rd Air Squadron commander, was given a written admonishment; Lt. Gen. Katsumi Ojika, Southwestern Composite Air Division commander, received a more serious written warning.
A JASDF and prefectural police investigation discovered Tamura collected surplus weapons, ammunition, clothing, and other military paraphernalia at an illegal flea market. The market was along a public access road in an unused section of Kadena Air Base.
Police also uncovered large caches of military gear and weapons at two houses Tamura rented in Naha near the base, where he was assigned as a mechanic.
A week after Tamura was killed, neighborhoods surrounding the houses were evacuated while U.S. Air Force bomb disposal experts disabled rocket-propelled grenades found inside the homes.
“Engaging in a flea market business for profit is an impermissible thing for a servicemember, something clearly against the ethics of civil servants,” said Lt. Col. Katsumi Kimura, a JASDF Naha Air Base spokesman.
Kimura also said Tamura had been stationed in Okinawa since 1992, even though an accompanied tour’s average length is five to seven years.
“If an assignment in one location is too long, it could become a factor contributing to the individual being involved a problem such as this case,” Kimura said. “We are also reviewing personnel actions on those servicemembers who have been stationed in one assignment location for an extended period of time due to special situations.”
The JASDF report said the source of the shells that exploded while Tamura was cleaning them for resale couldn’t be determined.
After Tamura’s death, police searched homes of those thought to associate with him. Seiei Shiroma, 45, and Yoshikazu Yasura, 33, were arrested Sept. 22 in connection with illegal weapons and ammunition sales. Charges were forwarded to the Naha District Court Prosecutor’s Office the next day. A spokesman from the office said their cases remain open.
“We cannot make any comment on the cases at this time,” a spokesman for the office said Wednesday.