Nago officials protest over live-fire exercise at Okinawa's Camp Schwab
NAGO, Okinawa — Nago City Council members this week protested live-fire training at Camp Schwab’s Range 10, saying they feared conditions that led to a stray bullet nearly hitting a farmer last year still exist.
On Oct. 18, the sound of gunfire coming from the firing range alarmed the chairman of the community board of the nearby village of Henoko, a part of Nago, said Yoshitami Oshiro, a member of the city council’s Committee on U.S. Military Affairs.
“He called the Nago City Government office after he heard what sounded like a machine gun firing and asked if there had been any prior notification of training from the Marine Corps,” Oshiro said.
“Because there was no prior notification to the city government, city officials hurried to the Henoko district, where they confirmed the shooting sounds,” he said. “Then they took a series of photos as bullets landed at four separate spots on the mountain, damaging its surface and raising smoke.”
He said the pictures showed the bullets were landing outside the concrete tunnel used as a target.
“They also indicated that they used long-range heavy firearms,” he said. “In the past six cases of stray bullet incidents in the area, all of them were the result of firing heavy machine guns.”
Oshiro later joined other city council members who visited Masaaki Numata, ambassador in charge of Okinawa, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Naha on Monday to file a protest. The group renewed their demand to halt live-fire training at the range with the Okinawa prefectural government, the Defense Facilities Administration’s Naha Bureau and the U.S. Consulate.
“When our residents hear the firing, it is natural for them to be anxious,” he said.
In July 2002, Nago residents were alarmed when a pineapple farmer, on the other side of the mountain used as a firing range, claimed he was almost hit by a stray machine-gun round from the range.
Training was suspended during a police investigation into the allegation, but there was no conclusive evidence the spent .50 caliber round the farmer produced had been recently fired.
The bullet was never turned over to Marine officials for testing and Okinawa police were unable to match the round with any of the machine guns used by the Marines.
To allay community fears, new restraints were installed on amphibious assault vehicles to control the vertical and horizontal movements of the machine guns.
Training at Range 10 was resumed in February.
“The training conducted on October 18 did not involve firing the M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun,” said 1st Lt. Al Eskalis, a Marine public affairs officer. “The weapons used during [the] training are not required to fire directly into the tunnel, but are restricted to a narrowly defined impact area on the training range.”
He said the Marine Corps “does not announce individual live fire training events at ranges due to operational concerns.”