"Okinawa’s loss will be Guam’s gain and with the amount of funds that will be spent in Guam to increase the infrastructure to support the arrival of the Marines and their families untold opportunities exist for the residents and government of Guam."
Donald Spina a longtime American resident and member of Okinawa’s business community shared these thoughts with the Journal and information on business relationships in Okinawa with the Marines.
The paper spoke directly with the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa and built up a picture of daily life there for Marine Corps personnel and family members resident under the Status of Forces Agreement and what goods and services support the Marine Corps in Okinawa.
Historically about 18 000 Marines and 20 000 family members are stationed in Okinawa.
2nd Lt. Brian Block media relations officer with the Consolidated Public Affairs Office of the III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Bases Japan in Okinawa; told the Journal "Under the Unit Deployment Program units from across the Marine Corps including those from Camp Pendleton [California] Camp Lejeune [North Carolina] and Hawaii serve on Okinawa for periods of six to seven months."
However Block told the Journal "That number fluctuates in response to deployments and the responsibilities of fighting the Global War on Terror as well as training exercises with our regional allies." About 70 exercises take place annually he said.
Block said there were about 12 500 Marines presently in Okinawa.
Support services with the Marine Corps offer opportunities for companies and individuals.
These cover construction environmental services facilities maintenance landscaping food services and administrative jobs on base.
"The majority of construction contracts are awarded to Okinawan/Japanese construction companies " Block said.
As in Guam where both the Navy and the Air Force have small business liaison officers "The Marine Corps works with area businesses to help them become part of the Marine Corps’ competitive-bidding process for other goods and services ‘ Block said.
The Marine Corps on Okinawa presently maintains 12 service contracts with Japanese and Okinawan contractors he said. The estimated value of the contracts is approximately $7.2 million.
Block said "Japanese nationals both from companies and a large number of individuals choose to do business with the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps here in Okinawa."
Additional opportunities for business exist. The Department of Defense Okinawa District school system according to www.pac.dodea.edu spends $7.66 million in support services. Of that 31% is allocated to supplies and equipment 27% to contracts 17% to maintenance and repair 12% to utilities rents and communications 11% to travel and 3% to student transportation.
About 9 000 Okinawan base employees serve the four military services.
The Okinawa American Chamber of Commerce through its Military Liaison Committee "acts as an interface between chamber members and U.S. military officials in Japan and passes on information of common interest between the two organizations." According to its Web site accokinawa.org the chamber "occasionally acts as a buffer to resolve any problems that may arise." The chamber’s finance office offers "an aggressive proactive and continuing campaign to ensure all members get paid by the federal government in accordance with the federal acquisition regulations." The chamber also has an informal forum where "contract officers provide members with an update of concerns and desires as well as a hearing on issues and obstacles vendors may be encountering."
Founded in 1953 the American Chamber of Commerce has about 130 members from the American and Japanese business community in Okinawa. Spina said "Some of these members represent local companies that capture a large share of the business done on Okinawa. "¦ It is a very small chamber and with the exception of only a few who have multi-million dollar contracts with the military the remainder is primarily made up of small entrepreneurs who have been on the island for many years. Some of the longtime American companies are no longer represented by Americans instead by other foreign executives."
Chamber members come from the spectrum of industry with largest numbers in import and export and restaurant supplies and equipment. Other notable groups supply building material and products freight and forwarding services and sales representation for manufacturers.
Spina has been in Okinawa since 1963 except for a two-year break. He is a franchisee for H&R Block though mainly retired. His wife Tess is the tax professional for H&R Block and his son Erwin overseas operations.
"At the present time the U.S. military is our primary business not only for tax preparation services but we also have an insurance agency selling automobile casualty and health insurance. In addition we are the factory representatives for the BMW Military Sales Stateside Delivery Program not only in Okinawa but mainland Japan as well " Spina said. The company also represents a Japanese automobile and casualty insurance company. "Our main operating business which ended in December 2003 was a warehousing and distribution business under a contract with Amway Japan."
Tourism has surpassed agriculture as a pillar of the economy in Okinawa he said. "The other main economy of the island is from money poured into it by the U.S. military presence. The departure of the 8 000 Marines and their dependents is expected to severely dampen the local economy.
"In addition to money spent directly into the economy by the military’s personal spending the Japan central government also provides large amounts of capital supporting the military presence some of which will disappear with the realignment that will take place between now and the year 2012."
Despite the attention drawn by events involving Marine personnel in for example Okinawa and Manila and fears expressed by senators Judith Won Pat and Joanne Brown Block told the Journal "The number of crimes committed by U.S. personnel consisting of service members and military dependents continues to remain proportionately low compared to the overall crime rate on the island."
For calendar 2005 there were 6 675 total cases on Okinawa of which only 66 involved Status of Forces Agreement personnel (U.S. military members and civilians in Okinawa working for the Department of Defense.). "That is 0.98% of the total cases in Okinawa " he said.
However Okinawa is ranked highest of all prefectures for alcohol-related traffic accidents according to www.usmc.mil and on Dec. 1 military police initiated on military installations a campaign aimed at reducing alcohol- and drug-related traffic incidents on Okinawa during the last holiday season.
III MEF is the parent command for the 3rd Marine Division 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and 3rd Marine Logistics Group. Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Weber commands the III Marine Expeditionary Force. III MEF "" with its subordinate units "" reports to Marine Forces Pacific which is in turn the subordinate Marine component to the U.S. Pacific Command. Marine Forces Pacific and the U.S. Pacific Command are both headquartered in Hawaii. The III MEF is able to "deploy rapidly "¦ across the spectrum from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to amphibious assault and high intensity combat " according to the public affairs office. It conducts combined operations and training throughout the region in support of U.S. security strategy an "maintains a forward presence in Japan and Asia to support the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and other relationships."
Hardware on Okinawa covers a range of military equipment. Marine units stationed on Okinawa operate a variety of tactical vehicles from the MTVR (commonly referred to as a 7-ton truck) to Humvees to assault amphibian vehicles. There is also a wide array of aircraft both fixed-wing and helicopters.
"Artillery units are stationed on Okinawa but only conduct their live-fire training on the mainland and within our partner countries " Block said.
Marines also strive to bring positive contributions to Okinawa. Block said "The Marine Corps engages in a wide variety of community relations projects here on Okinawa. Marines regularly conduct beach clean-ups with the local communities visit Okinawan schools to teach English participate in Okinawan cultural festivals such as the Dragon Boat races held in early May. Outreach to the local communities is a major part of the Marine Corps life on Okinawa outside of work. We enjoy being contribution partners with the local communities and building friendships that will last." MBJ