TOKYO — People on military bases across the Pacific met the start of the war in Iraq with solemn, matter-of-fact acceptance — and relief that the wait was over.
A hushed pall fell over Misawa Air Base’s Tohoku enlisted club lounge Thursday, where about 20 people, a handful in battle dress uniforms, stopped to watch President Bush’s four-minute address on a large-screen television. But they didn’t linger to catch the subsequent news accounts.
“It’s time,” said Staff Sgt. Victor Claudio of the 35th Communications Squadron. “I’m glad the anticipation is over. A lot of troops, some of them I know, have been waiting there since October. This impacts Misawa directly.”
Tech. Sgt. Julie McCammon said she has many friends in the region, where hostilities are under way. “It’s disturbing,” she said. “I hope everything works.”
And Misawa’s AFN outlet cut away from televised news reports about the war to air daily afternoon soap operas.
“It’s a pretty ordinary day,” said Dana Garrido, 29, a spouse from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. “Things on base haven’t changed that much. I was surprised by that.”
In South Korea, large-screen televisions in Yongsan Garrison’s food court broadcast breaking news stories on the initial attack.
But those packing the space to eat lunch — mostly soldiers dressed in BDUs — focused instead on eating lunch and talking with friends. The main exchange was equally quiet; no one stood in front of the electronic section’s wall of TVs — a popular spot for watching breaking news.
At Yongsan’s Dragon Hill Lodge, teenagers on lunch break from Seoul American High School clustered below a wall-mounted TV broadcasting news of the war’s opening moments — but they were focused instead on trying to win a prize from a video game below.
On Okinawa, Master Sgt. Matthew Balough left his work at Kadena’s 733rd Air Mobility Squadron to watch President Bush’s speech. The airman said he believes the U.S. military will win quickly.
“I got an e-mail yesterday from a buddy in Turkey,” he said. “He sounded pretty confident. … He was sending jokes.”
Sgt. Steven Murray, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, said, “We’ve been waiting for this to happen, and we are trained and ready. All the Marines here in Iwakuni are just waiting to get the call.”
In Sasebo, Seaman James Kimber said, “I’m just tired of hearing about it, and I want to see the matter taken care of. I just hope it won’t take long.”
Phil Eakins, a former petty officer who currently works for the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center’s Sasebo detachment, said, “It’s unfortunate the situation has led to armed conflict but the United Nations has been waiting 12 years. … It’s obvious that Saddam doesn’t care. … Now it’s time to take care of business.”
On Okinawa’s Camp Hansen, Ray Welch, camp services director for Marine Corps Community Service, watched the president’s brief speech on a television in his office. “I don’t care if the critics call him a cowboy,” Welch said. “I’m pretty proud of our cowboy.”
“I can imagine what the guys in the field are feeling,” said Welch, a Vietnam veteran. “That sitting and waiting plays head games.”
On Camp Foster, Okinawa, Marine Sgt. Curtis Miller, 26, stopped at the Stripes News Bureau to catch up on the war news.
“This is going to be something that’s going down in history,” he said, watching CNN coverage of the war’s opening moments.
“I hope it’s resolved quickly and with as few casualties as possible.”
Miller, a network engineer assigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion, said he has many friends with Marines in Kuwait. “They might be in Iraq by now,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of old buddies in grunt units that are out there and I’m praying for them.”
Throughout the day, signs of tightened security emerged: A canine security officer swept parking lots, helicopters flew low and more Japanese National Police guards patrolled the gates in light riot gear.
But Air Force Capt. James Tehero, a civil engineer, said he’d wait before focusing on news reports. He was preoccupied with a previously planned base exercise.
“There’s too much going on to digest this now.”
Life also seemed to continue as usual at U.S. Naval Forces, Marianas on Guam.
Linda Baldevia said folks gathered in the base exchange’s television room during the president’s speech, and the room fell quiet.
But afterward, people went back about their business — and by midafternoon, as CNN’s “Breaking News” bulletins flashed, only one man was still there — and he was asleep on the couch.
— Doug Huddy, Wayne Specht, T.D. Flack, Greg Tyler, Carlos Bongioanni, David Allen, Juliana Gittler and Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.