Kon-nichi-wa!  I would like to tell you all how honored I am to have the opportunity to address this very important professional organization that symbolizes the close relationship that exists between the United States and Japan and the close ties that connect our two Air Forces.

  I’d like to specially say thank you to Gen Tohtake for the invitation and to LtGen Rice for giving me an opportunity to share this evening with JAAGA. I have the honor of commanding 18th Wing and Kadena AB for the last two yeas. My command tour will come to an end in next few weeks, and I thought I will take a few minutes to share with you some of my insights and conclusions on the nature of U.S. Air Forces presence on Okinawa.

  My first observation is that the chance to experience Japanese culture has been incredibly special for me and my family. That experience is probably most important single memory we will take with us for leave Japan. In our two years we’ve seen all parts of Okinawa, we spent long weekend at Misawa in Feb. We toured southern mainland where we enjoyed sights and sounds of Kyoto, Nagasaki, Iwakuni, Nara, Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. Yes, we even spent few days in Tokyo and climbed Fujisan. Everywhere we went, we found Japanese people to be friendly, polite, respectful and proud. We thank all of you for allowing us to get to know you during our tour in Japan.

  This was my first assignment in the Pacific and I knew the Okinawa would be a unique and challenging environment. For those of you who are not familiar with Kadena, let me say it is a little like running a small city surrounded by very closely by several other cities. At the same time you are countable for one of the largest flying combat wings in the U.S. Air Force. A team of almost 25,000 people flying four different kinds of airplanes. Busy job, but I still managed to fly an F15 about five or six times a month.

  As you all know, the relationship between Okinawa, central government of Japan and the U.S. military is very complex. Each of us has a own concern and interests but in the end the vast majority of both Americans and Japanese understand that the U.S. Air Forces presence on Okinawa in partnership with our Japanese Allies has been essential to more than 50 years of peace in this region. And it is absolutely vital to the long term security and interests of both our countries.

  I believe the key to our future success is continued cooperation, open communication and a recognition that in the end we all value the same thing—freedom, the freedom to live in our lives, the freedom to raise our families, the freedom to select our leaders and contribute to the proud legacies of both of our nations.

  Cooperation and communication on Okinawa has to occur on two fronts. I’ll talk about easiest one first. That’s our relationship with Japanese Self Defense Force. While we operate most closely with Air Self Defense Force, it is clear on Okinawa the key to security comes from integrating our joint capabilities. I have had the honor to meet with Air, Maritime and Ground Self Defense Force leaders and am very aware of their missions and how we must integrate to contribute to common defense of Japan.

  I believe the integration is the key word. While we have made a lot of progress in the last two years, I think it is vital that we continue to seek ways to train more frequently together, develop means share information especially through common data links, work to put more detail into our joint plans to defend Okinawa from attack where that is from air, sea or cyberspace, and then make sure those plans and tactics compliment wide variety of possible scenarios that could effect our securities here in Japan
  The establishment next couple of years of Bilateral Air Operations Center on Yokota will move us much farther along. But I believe we need some focus attention on Okinawa. It is important that there is a capability to integrate our efforts with very little warning. So as we go forward with bringing our Air Forces closer together from a command and control perspective, I think we need to pay special attention to how it all work in Okinawa. We must make sure that Japanese Self Defense Forces and the U.S. Joint Forces are ready to respond quickly and effectively.

  The most difficult area of cooperation and communication on Okinawa is with our partners in the local community. Operations on Kadena have a huge impact on neighbors and it is imperative that we do everything we can to balance the needs of our mission with the concerns of the communities. I can tell you this has been some of the most difficult and frustrating work I have done during my command.

  This is my second wing command and our neighbors around my first base in Florida in the United States had the same concerns our Okinawa neighbors have---safety, noise and environment. Working through those issues is difficult enough in the U.S. but here in Okinawa the culture differences, language barriers and complex history make the work very challenging.

  Personally my biggest challenge has been getting used to the concept of public face and private face and learning not to take personally anything that is printed in the newspaper. At the end of the day I know that key community leaders, particularly the mayors understand we do make compromises everyday and we do take all possible measures to minimize our impact. But the fact is that as long as the U.S. and Japan have a security agreement, there will be a presence on Okinawa. It is vital even though we are not always agree, we must always communicate and respect each other’s point of view.

  In summary, this has been a great assignment for me. The honor of leading so many Airmen who work so hard for their country is always a very humbling experience and in quite honestly that’s why I’m staying in the Air Force. It has been exceptionally rewarding to have the honor and responsibility of working with Japan, one of our closest allies. I know I will leave Japan with friends and memories that will last the rest of my life.   Thank you again to this opportunity. Atigatougozaimasshita!

   (At JAAGA annual convention, 21 May 2009. Hotel Grand Hill Ichigaya)

“The United States Air force on Okinawa”
Brigadier General Bred. T. Williams
At JAAGA lecture on 21 May 2009