Okinawa ‘sensitivities’ ground air show
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Bowing to the requests of local and national Japanese officials in the wake of a Marine helicopter crash on Okinawa last month, the Air Force has canceled a Thunderbirds flight demonstration at this year’s AmericaFest.
The U.S. Air Force’s Aerial Demonstration Squadron was scheduled to fly in the skies over Kadena on Sept. 15, the highlight of the two-day festival.
According to the 18th Wing, the Thunderbird cancellation was made “in light of the sensitivities expressed by local and national Japanese government officials.” AmericaFest, however, will still take place Sept. 14-15.
“Lieutenant Gen. Thomas C. Waskow, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force, made the decision after consulting with Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, commander of Kadena’s 18th Wing, and in consultation with other Air Force leaders,” an 18th Wing release stated.
A Marine helicopter clipped a building and crashed during an emergency landing Aug. 13 on the Okinawa International University campus in Ginowan, adjacent to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. Three crewmen were injured and debris from the helicopter rained down on the surrounding residential area. No civilian injuries were reported.
The mayors of the three municipalities that host the air base supported the flight demonstration earlier this year. But they met Aug. 23 and decided to ask the Air Force to cancel the show.
“Under the present situation, it would be almost impossible to obtain the understanding and support of the people of Okinawa for the air show,” Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi said after the mayors’ meeting.
Contacted Friday afternoon, Miyagi said he was pleased to hear of the cancellation.
“It would have been really hard for the people of Okinawa to accept an event that involved repeated takeoffs and landings of aircraft,” he said. “It was not our intention to interrupt the festival that so many military officials had worked so hard to prepare. However, we had no choice but to file our request.
“I am fully aware that canceling the air show was only possible with great effort and consideration of General Jouas and the other military officials involved, and I highly praise their efforts,” Miyagi said. “I am very relieved.”
AmericaFest, an annual Fourth of July event held on the base flight line, was suspended after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States. This is the first year it was rescheduled and it was moved to September to coincide with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s 50th anniversary.
“The base will, as planned, open its gates on Sept. 15 to share AmericaFest ’04 with local communities,” 18th Wing officials said. “AmericaFest will blend cultural exchange, music, food and fun with an opportunity for Okinawans to see various Japan Air Self-Defense Force and U.S. Air Force aircraft up close, to include interaction with flight crews.”
The Thunderbirds were invited to Japan to participate in JASDF anniversary events throughout the country — including two air shows at JASDF bases and a Sept. 30 performance at Misawa Air Base.
The first day of AmericaFest, Sept. 14, will be for the American military community only. Gates will open to the Okinawa community Sept. 15; guest parking will be available several miles away at the Yomitan Auxiliary Airfield, with shuttle buses to Kadena starting at noon. Buses also will pick up pedestrians outside other Kadena gates.