Building on bilateral legacy
8/20/2015 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- High atop Yozadake Mountain, a majestic view that overlooks the city of Naha and the East China Sea, members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's 56th Aircraft and Warning Control Group and Kadena's 623d Air Control Flight trade stories of their common history while exploring JASDF's Yozadake Sub Base.
In 1952, the (then) 623d Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron established Yozadake Air Station. The 623d ACW's Detachment 3, also known as "Climber", referred to Yozadake as the Okinawa Alps and had a local goat as their mascot. The U.S. Air Force retained control of the base until the Ryukyu Islands were reverted back to Japanese control on March 31, 1973.
"Yozadake has long been a keystone in the defense of Okinawa," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Daniel V. Biehl, 623d ACF commander. "The Japanese Army and Navy used the site during World War II for early warning and radio communications and was the site of Japan's last stand during the Battle of Okinawa. Later, "Climber" controlled the entire Ryukyus Air Defense Identification Zone from this mountain."
Today, Yozadake is home to the JASDF's FPS-5 "Gamera" Radar.
The 623d ACF's mission is to integrate air and missile defense operations with battlestaff and liaison functions and to provide tactical control within one or more Japanese direction centers. While the 623d conducts daily operations from the Naha Direction Center, the Yozadake mission is vital to mission success.
"We rely solely on Japanese sensors and communications equipment," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Burley Malbrough, 623d ACF. "When we need a system optimized at the direction center, it's the JASDF airmen here and at similar JASDF sub bases that configure it. Actually, through 2010, we routinely controlled aircraft from Yozadake. Bottom-line, we simply cannot do our mission without our JASDF partners."
During a visit to the Gamera Radar Airmen were greeted by their JASDF counterparts that they speak with over radios every day.
"Mission success dictates that our partnership extends deeper than simple military tactics," said Maj. David Spitler, 623d ACF director of operations. "Building bilateral relationships is what we do. A major part of that is simply trading pictures and stories of our kids, telling jokes and sharing a meal. We organize events like this and host American style holiday events several times each year just like the 623rd AC&W did since the 1950s."
Forging strong ties through common interests unites both forces and reinforces the partnership of the units.
"At the end of the day, just like these JASDF Airmen, my family lives in Okinawa," said Spitler. "Defending Okinawa could not be more important to me. The JASDF share the same feeling."
Although the Airmen of the 623d ACF visit Yozadake every year, those who know the history of the radar site may have felt nostalgic.
"It's a homecoming for the 623d," said Biehl. "The Airmen of the 56th AC&W Group welcomed us, yet again, with the open arms of friendship. Building bilateral relations is our job and judging by today's visit, business is good!"