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Squadron's move to Iwakuni has new ally

Corps' plans to shift other Marines off Okinawa still on hold

Dec. 14, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Operation Damayan
Lt. Col. Jason W. Julian, left, commanding officer of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, and Capt. Graham Castromiller, a pilot, land in the Philippines on Nov. 18 during the post-typhoon assistance operation. VMGR-152, now based on Okinawa, will eventually move to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. (Lance Cpl. Luis A. Rodriguez III/Marine Corps)
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The plan to move Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 152 from Okinawa to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on the mainland has gained an important backer.

The mayor of Iwakuni, who has opposed the immediate relocation of approximately 15 KC-130J Super Hercules refueling tankers from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to his city now says he is in favor of the move happening in the coming year.

Mainichi Shimbun, one of the largest newspapers in Japan, reported that Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda told the Iwakuni municipal assembly Dec. 9 that he now believes the city will accept the Marine squadron to reduce the burden on Okinawa, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to block the move of more than 9,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Hawaii, or other Pacific locations until the Corps develops a master plan for the move. That prohibition continues in effect in the final version of the defense authorization bill approved by the House and awaiting final confirmation by the Senate, which is expected Dec. 18.

The defense policy bill “extends the prohibition on the use of U.S. and Japanese funds for the realignment of Marine Corps’ forces from Okinawa to Guam or other Pacific locations until several conditions are met, including the completion of a master plan for military construction necessary to support such a move,” according to a Dec. 9 statement on the website of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The provision includes specific exceptions for facilities that would have military value independent of the movement of Marines from Okinawa to Guam and [the] planning and design of facilities across the island.”

When VMGR-152 will move to western Japan is also up in the air.

The population at MCAS Iwakuni had been scheduled to double, to about 10,000 residents by 2014, with the arrival of the Marine squadron and Carrier Air Wing 5 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, but U.S. and Japanese officials say the naval portion of the move has been delayed by as much as three years.

A heavy-duty runway, essential to expansion plans, was completed in May 2010, but much of the rest of the base is a veritable maze of construction.

“The vast majority of VMGR-152-related facilities are currently under construction, with projected completion dates ranging from January to December 2014,” stated 1st Lt. Noah Rappahahn, a spokesman for III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “Housing, maintenance hangars, the wash rack, parking apron and the supply/storage complex are projected for completion in the April to June timeframe, while the apron fueling points, rinse facility and corrosion control hangar are projected for completion between June and December.”

All those dates are subject to change, forward or backward, he said.

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