Tsunami relief missions altering plans for Pacific military training exercises
January 12, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Regularly scheduled military exercises are being affected by the massive humanitarian relief effort now under way in South Asia, Marine Corps officials said.
Marines on Okinawa have canceled eight days of live-fire artillery training scheduled for Jan. 24 to Feb. 3 at Hijudai in Oita Prefecture, a Marine Corps spokeswoman said Monday.
And a Marine officer briefing family members of Marines and sailors deployed with the 3rd Marine Division in Indonesia told them the deployment may affect even Cobra Gold, the annual multilateral exercise held each spring in Thailand.
“Right now, it’s still open,” Col. Scott T. Campbell, commanding officer of the 12th Marine Regiment, said at the recent briefing. “But it might be scaled down to a tactical exercise without troops.”
Last year’s Cobra Gold exercise involved 13,500 U.S. troops, 5,500 Thais and a combined force of 100 military personnel from the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia, as well as observers from 11 other nations. Besides forging joint warfare skills, each Cobra Gold exercise also includes humanitarian relief, skills now being put to use in the tsunami relief efforts.
A late March live-fire artillery exercise at a Japan Self-Defense Forces facility near Mount Fuji also may be canceled, Campbell said.
The 12th Marines are based on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, but must deploy to mainland Japan and Hokkaido several times a year for periodic live-fire training.
The artillery exercises were moved after protests from Okinawans who objected to an east-west highway being closed whenever live-fire training was conducted there. In 1997, at the Japanese government’s request, live-fire training was moved to five areas: Hijudai on Kyushu, East and North Fuji, Ojojihara in Northern Honshu and Yausubetsu in Hokkaido.
The Japanese government funds the relocated artillery exercises, which are held four times a year and usually involve transporting some 420 Marines and sailors and their 155 mm medium howitzers to the Japan Self-Defense Force training areas.
So far, personnel from Okinawa deployed to South Asia for earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts include more than 1,000 Marines and sailors, about 320 airmen and 50 Navy Seabees, according to area public affairs offices.
A spokesman for the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base said all six of Kadena’s C-5 cargo planes are fully engaged in the humanitarian mission.
“That’s why it’s so quiet here today,” Major Mike Paoli said Monday. “So far we’ve delivered 2.7 million pounds of cargo.”