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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The commander of U.S. Forces Japan took center stage at the Keystone Theater here Thursday to remind senior noncommissioned enlisted leaders and field grade officers just why this base is called the “Keystone of the Pacific.”

“You’ve never been more important,” Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright told the more than 100 in attendance.

With China rising economically and militarily, and North Korea “continuing to be problematic,” the Japan-U.S. alliance is more important than ever, Wright said, adding that Russia’s recent activation of its long-range bombers complicates the picture.

“(And) we’ve also got a tough fight right now in the Philippines — radical Islam,” he said.

That’s why recent agreements with Japan that involve building closer cooperation and interoperability with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are so important, he said.

In touching upon the agreement signed in May 2006 to realign U.S. forces in Japan, Wright emphasized that the idea of the U.S. military being a “burden” on Okinawa “is losing its popularity,” partly because the planned move of Marine air operations to Camp Schwab will enable the closing of most of the U.S. base property in central and southern Okinawa.

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