Tension on the Island

Kadena AB, JapanBrig. Gen. Barry Cornish, commander of the 18th Wing, acknowledged there is some tension with the local population over the US military presence here on Okinawa, and that “we’ve had to curtail the liberties of our airmen” following several high-profile incidents. However, he said some of that “is a little overplayed.” Lt. Gen. John Dolan, then-commander of US Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force, visited Kadena in July to emphasize the ramifications of bad behavior and concerns over the Status of Forces Agreement. In June, US and local media reported as many as 60,000 people gathered on Okinawa to protest the US military presence there after an American contractor was arrested for the murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman, but Cornish said “even though some of the reactions have been understandable,” the number of protesters—though still in the tens of thousands—was exaggerated in the press. He said there is a portion of the population, typically between 30 and 90 people, who regularly protest on Fridays, but overall the US has “developed really good friendships here across the board,” Cornish told Air Force Magazine. “My feeling is that this is a very welcoming community and there is an element that’s anti-base on Okinawa, but I think that’s been here throughout history and they would utilize every opportunity to try to work against our presence here.” However, he added, “everyone we engage with here,” from the “owners of local mom and pop stores” to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, support the US military presence and “are more representative of the true strength of our US, Japan alliance.”