Top Japan Marine: East Asia will be safe
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The top Marine general in Japan stressed Wednesday that deploying 3,000 Marines and sailors from Okinawa to Iraq would not endanger East Asian stability.
“We will definitely feel the impact,” Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr., commanding general of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan, said during a news conference. “However, the redeployment of these Marines and sailors away from Okinawa is temporary.
“The U.S. will maintain adequate deterrence and response capabilities for East Asia until these units can return to Okinawa,” he said. “Okinawa continues to be a vital strategic location and we must have forces forward deployed to deter aggression and respond to crises.”
Most of the Marines and sailors deploying to Iraq from Okinawa are from units based in the United States and sent to Okinawa under the Unit Deployment Program. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton, Calif., already have arrived on Okinawa and are to leave soon for a seven-month deployment in Iraq.
Additionally, a Marine Reserve unit, the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines Regiment, will deploy directly to Iraq instead of flying to Okinawa from the Midwest.
Associated aviation and support elements from other Okinawa-based units also will be deployed.
About 17,500 Marines and sailors are stationed on Okinawa.
The news conference was held for members of the Okinawa Press Club with questions prepared in advance by press club members. Blackman touched on several subjects during the hourlong event.
Several of the questions concerned relocating the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma, in the middle of the island’s urban center, to a rural area off the island’s northeast shore.
“We fully support and we are anxious for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma,” Blackman said. “We are ready to do so as soon as a suitable replacement facility is ready.”
In the meantime, he said, the Marine Corps tries to minimize the effect air operations have on local residents.
The Corps is “continually implementing noise reduction procedures,” he said. “We ensure that training missions and operations take into account local concerns such as special holidays and exam schedules, while still maintaining the capabilities and readiness of our Marine forces.
“We maintain quiet hours to the extent possible dictated by operational necessity,” he added. “Finally, we minimize our flights over land and populated areas. When we do fly over land, it is at increased altitudes to reduce noise.”
Blackman said the request by Okinawa officials to restrict the military use of the new air station to 15 years was a “a question to be decided by the U.S. and Japanese governments, not the military.”
Blackman said he was “overwhelmed by the graciousness and hospitality” of the Okinawan people since taking command in July.
He also praised the men and women under his command.
“I have had numerous opportunities to observe the Marines and sailors of this command as they train to fulfill our obligation to the security of Japan and the peace and stability of the region,” he said. “I have also watched as they worked side-by-side with our Okinawan neighbors in community projects, such as beach clean-ups, assisting in projects at nursing and handicapped facilities and teaching English in local schools.
“Their efforts, both professionally and in their off time, make me proud to be their commander.”