Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan commander.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan commander. (U.S. Air Force)

After nearly a year in office — a year that saw sweeping changes to the U.S.-Japan security alliance — U.S. Forces Japan Commander Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright in an interview with Stars and Stripes on Tuesday outlined several areas of interest last year and for the year ahead: quality of life for servicemembers; bilateral ties between U.S. and Japanese forces; and relationships with communities hosting U.S. forces.

Each has a role in sustaining the alliance, the most important in the region’s history, he said.

“What we do here is exceedingly important,” he said. “The U.S.-Japan alliance has never been more relevant.”

Quality of lifeAfter four tours to Japan, Wright said he knows being stationed in Japan is “a gift,” but one that comes with plenty of challenges. One of his goals has been improving quality of life for those stationed here.

“It’s always about taking care of people,” he said. “And people taking care of the mission.”

Wright said that in 2005 he worked closely with the leaders of the service components in Japan — the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps — to improve quality of life. For example, the leaders met with Department of Defense Dependents Schools officials in Japan for the first time during a commanders’ conference to examine ways to improve school services.

The commanders also set goals for leaders of the medical and chaplain communities to address in summits. Wright and the component commanders asked medical staffs to improve customer service — from the first contact a patient has with a medical facility by phone to bedside manner during care.

For chaplains, Wright and the service leaders looked at “how best to minister to the unit level,” he said.

Wright said he hopes to continue the focus on quality of life in 2006. One goal, he noted, is creating better, more professional and expanded service from the Patriot Express, the military flights from Japan to the United States.

“We would like to make it as good as or better than any commercial interest,” he said.

Bilateral capabilitiesA key piece of the U.S.-Japan Defense Policy Review Initiative signed in October is the improvement of bilateral relations. As part of that objective, Wright said, U.S. Forces Japan and the individual services looked at ways to increase and improve working relationships and training with Japanese forces, starting with the Keen Edge exercise planned for late February.

The exercise will launch a joint and bilateral coordination center at Yokota Air Base, the forerunner of a permanent center called for in the interim agreement.

The center will bring together the staffs of each U.S. service branch and their Japanese counterparts to build working relationships and operational understanding, to better battle regional disasters, war, instability and other events in the future, Wright said, adding it will also strengthen relations between the service branches.

Local relationshipsWright intends to continue programs such as cultural exchanges, home stays and sharing some facilities with communities to bolster ties with areas surrounding U.S. bases.

Wright said he hopes more concrete details on the transformation will allay the concerns of local leaders who are opposed to a U.S. presence in their towns.

A more detailed realignment plan is expected in late March and should address some of the uncertainties. The joint committee process to hash out details also helps bring both sides together to bridge gaps, he said.

Wright said the thousands of servicemembers, civilians and dependents under his command will continue to be held to a high level of professionalism as ambassadors for the United States and military. Their behavior greatly influences the alliance, he said.

“We won’t abide those who don’t measure up,” he said.

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