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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — After almost two years commanding the 35th Fighter Wing and this northern Japan base, Brig. Gen. Dana T. Atkins is saying goodbye.

Atkins is to turn over his helm to Col. William J. Rew in a change-of-command ceremony here at 9 a.m. Thursday in Hangar 949.

Atkins then is to board a plane to South Korea, to be Seventh Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Korea vice commander and chief of staff of the Air Component Command at Osan Air Base.

Reflecting on his Misawa days, Atkins said he’s most proud of three accomplishments:

¶ Improving the base-city relationship.

“When I came here, the relationship between Misawa Air Base and Misawa city was a bit strained, and not for anybody’s lack of leadership or mistakes,” the general said, pointing to several fighter jet mishaps that occurred prior to his taking command.

Atkins and his commanders met with city leaders twice a year through the Community Relations Advisory Council and he took the city’s concerns seriously, trying to resolve any problems within 24 hours.

Case in point: When city leaders said some vehicle operators from base, who were involved in car accidents, lacked liability or Japanese Compulsory Insurance, Atkins decreed that anyone caught with expired vehicle insurance could lose driving privileges for six months.

¶ Building a better relationship with the Japan Air Self Defense Force.

“When I first got here, there was some frustration … because JASDF has an emerging mission here that is actually causing them to grow,” he said, referring to the introduction of JASDF’s new F-2 fighter jet.

JASDF leaders might, for example, agree with Misawa’s base commander about what land they could use for future development, only to see the deal go out the door under the next commander.

Though made in good faith, those agreements were “never documented,” Atkins said.

He worked to change that by developing a base comprehensive plan with JASDF input, being reviewed now by the Japan-U.S. joint committee in Tokyo, he said.

¶ Enhancing quality of life on the base.

“Resourcing during the last two years, if you ask me, it’s been historic,” Atkins said. In his first year at Misawa, the base received $12 million from Pacific Air Forces for base projects; in his second year, $28 million. The latter was so high in part because of force protection initiatives generated by the global war on terrorism.

Atkins tried to target base services for improvements because that’s an investment affecting all base residents, he said. His departure comes as a number of quality of life improvement projects are coming to fruition, from a revamped Mokuteki Community Center and Grissom Dining Facility to the new indoor recreation center slated to open this fall.

But the current burst of renovations at Misawa likely won’t continue, Atkins said, because the military is “tightening our belts” due to world events — meaning keeping the pace of improvements going will be one of his successor’s biggest challenges. Rew, Atkins said, “won’t have the same resources that I had.”

Another challenge will be to “take the new upgrades on the jets and advance that into new mission capability,” Atkins said.

All 40 of Misawa’s F-16s are receiving upgrades as part of an Air Force-wide initiative to get all F-16s the same avionics and capabilities.

“He’s the right guy to do that,” Atkins said. Rew also replaced Atkins as commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., where F-16s already have been upgraded.

Atkins said what he’ll remember most about Misawa is the people — from the airmen who deployed in support of the war on terrorism to the Japanese nationals who help protect the base.

One memory that stands out, he said, is waiting a year ago with Col. Jeffrey Stambaugh, then the 35th Operations Group commander, for the return of airmen who deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“As the planes pulled in and the KC-10 landed with the support team … I watched him cry,” Atkins said. “He was happy that everyone came back alive. He felt that he did his mission to prepare them for war and they came back safe to their families.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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