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KADENA AIR BASE — About 30 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force students from the Ground Staff College in Tokyo visited Camp Courtney and Kadena Air Base on Friday to learn more about the U.S. forces on Okinawa.

The 27 students, accompanied by two instructors, received briefings on the Okinawa bases’ roles and operations and were encouraged to ask questions.

One student, after the Kadena Air Base mission brief, had a question about the Special Operations Group there.

“In what situations do they operate?” he asked.

Lt. Col. William Lewis of the 44th Fighter Squadron, one of the tour’s hosts, explained using the tsunami that occurred in Sumatra in December last year as an example.

“[The Special Operations Group] were the first people to arrive in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, taking supplies and people,” he said.

Further questions varied from Team Kadena to technical issues such as radio waves with different frequencies among fighter jets.

“They are very interested and inquisitive,” Lewis said after the briefing session. “They try to understand the best they can to ensure the future of our relations,” he said.

Lewis said the visit was very fruitful. “The more interaction, the more relations can be enhanced,” he said. After the briefing session, the students toured the flight line and visited a KC-135R refueling aircraft.

Kadena Air Base has hosted about 20 tours of SDF members annually for more than 30 years, according to Kadena community relations officials.

Friday’s visit to the Marine and Air Force bases apparently impressed the students.

“We all share the same belief that the security alliance between Japan and the United States is very important,” said Col. Mitsuhiko Nakadai of the Ground Staff College.

“What impressed me the most was the advanced integration among different branches,” he said.

“For many operations … in the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan, all … four branches of the military worked together very well and effectively,” he said.

The students, most of them colonels and senior officers, study at the college for one year before assuming higher posts such as commanding officers or staff members.

The tours made them realize how important it is to meet and talk in person with U.S. servicemembers, Nakadai said.

“We cannot gain this through book knowledge,” he said. “Another thing I was impressed with,” he added, was “how big Kadena Air Base is and the wonderful facilities they have.”

“These students are the people who will lead the Self Defense-Force in the next ten years,” said Col. Tetsuo Azuma, instructor for strategy at the college.

“The firsthand knowledge they gained through the tour [will] be very helpful for their future,” he said.


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