Lt. Gen. Burton Field, commander of U.S. forces in Japan, said Thursday the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko remains valid.
The people of Okinawa are bitterly opposed to what they call the world’s most dangerous base staying on Okinawa Island — especially in densely populated Futenma.
“We agreed to develop a replacement for the Futenma airfield and that is indeed up in the Henoko area of Camp Schwab. That is still our agreement, that is still the position of both the U.S. and the central government of Japan that that’s the best solution for the issue of Futenma,” Field said, summarizing more than a decade of bilateral talks over the issue.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, Field pointed out that airfields are normally built away from populated areas because of aircraft noise. But as the years go by, the population around the base grows, causing “friction” between the military and residents, he explained.
“This happens in every country around the world. And I am not minimizing the Futenma issue — I am just saying this is the kind of things that happen and it happened down in Okinawa,” Field said. “Nobody would think that that’s a great way to operate, out of an airport that is essentially downtown.”
Field took up his post in October 2010, and was subsequently commander of Operation Tomodachi, the relief operation the U.S. launched after the March 11 disasters last year to help Japan and the Self-Defense Forces deal with its worst calamity since the war. He mobilized 24,000 service members, 190 aircraft and 24 naval ships in the effort.
Field recalled the uncertainty created by the lack of information about the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which triggered the evacuation of residents within 20 to 30 km of it. The U.S. urged Americans in the area to get at least 80 km away.
“We were in an uncertain environment, especially early on, and it wasn’t that the Japanese government wasn’t sharing the information, I don’t think they had the information to share,” Field said. The 80-km radius “was just something that had plenty of buffer in a worst-case scenario.”
U.S. service members toiling within the 80-km radius were carefully checked for radiation. Field said the maximum exposure logged was the same amount as two to three X-rays.
“I was very confident that we could execute those missions safely at a minimum risk to our folks, but we knew that we had a mission to do and we were going to take the risk that was required in order to execute those missions to support the Self-Defense Forces,” Field said.