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Col. David Hunter-Chester, U.S. Army Japan deputy chief of staff for civil affairs, addresses a crowded auditorium in Sagamihara city on Saturday. On the left is Nobushige Takamizawa, Yokohama Defense Facilities Administration Bureau director, who also was a member of the panel.
Col. David Hunter-Chester, U.S. Army Japan deputy chief of staff for civil affairs, addresses a crowded auditorium in Sagamihara city on Saturday. On the left is Nobushige Takamizawa, Yokohama Defense Facilities Administration Bureau director, who also was a member of the panel. (Vince Little / S&S)

SAGAMIHARA, Japan — The relocation of a headquarters unit to Camp Zama and creation of a battle-command training center at Sagami Depot will have no significant impact on surrounding communities, a U.S. Army Japan official told a packed auditorium here Saturday.

Col. David Hunter-Chester, deputy chief of staff for civil affairs at U.S. Army Japan, said 400 soldiers and their family members will arrive at Camp Zama in fiscal year 2008 as part of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. The contingent is being transferred from I-Corps at Fort Lewis, Wash.

The colonel was part of a five-member panel Saturday that included a Takushoku University professor, the director of Yokohama’s Defense Facilities Administration Bureau, a Sagamihara community leader and the head of a nonprofit peace research organization. In addition to discussing the planned I-Corps move, they also touched on the partial return of Sagami Depot and the importance of maintaining a strong deterrence.

“With the increase of families and personnel we’re talking about, we have a plan to accommodate them on existing facilities and areas,” Hunter-Chester said. “That’s the way we’ll proceed.”

Along with the Army headquarters transformation in Japan, a battle command training center and other support facilities will be built within Sagami General Depot using U.S. funds, according to the U.S.-Japan military realignment report.

The facility essentially will be a simulation center for command-post exercises driven by computer scenarios, Hunter-Chester said. Such exercises let forces rehearse the steps they’d take in emergencies and other crisis situations without the need to engage in physical operations.

“This will be a new type of Army headquarters and a more effective Army headquarters,” he said. “But it will be mostly tied to the simulation center.

“For the people not participating in the training, it will be difficult to even notice that the training is occurring. No danger, no noise for the surrounding community.”

Hunter-Chester said many details contained in the U.S. military’s transformation effort remain under discussion at higher levels of the Defense Department.

Sagamihara residents have called for the complete return of Sagami Depot and voiced concern that the U.S. military influence would remain in Japan permanently.

Land returns are discussed frequently by both nations and many have been carried out over the years, Hunter-Chester said.

“Under the [status of forces agreement], if the U.S. has land it’s no longer using, we are required to turn that back over to Japan,” he added.

Among other changes called for in the realignment report:

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