US Forces Japan gets new commander amid Asia-Pacific rebalance
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When Lt. Gen. John L. Dolan took command of 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan on Friday, he was welcomed by a group of retired Japanese servicemembers who saved his life more than two decades ago.
Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Commander (retired) Hideki Kida and the crew of the Iwakuni-based rescue aircraft US-1, number 81, were among the crowd of mostly U.S. and Japanese servicemembers and civilians who greeted Dolan at Yokota Air Base.
“He and his crew risked their lives as they rescued me when I had to eject from my F-16, 680 nautical miles from Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean,” Dolan told the audience, recalling the events of Jan. 23, 1992.
“They were heroic that day, and I will tell you that I would not be standing before you now if it was not for the bravery of Commander Kida and his crew.”
Dolan took command of USFJ, along with the 5th Air Force’s flagship F-16, from Lt. Gen. Salvatore A. “Sam” Angelella.
During his time in Japan, Angelella focused on boosting the alliance’s capabilities by, for example, deploying some of America’s the most modern weapons, such as the Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, Marine Corps Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and Air Force Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane, Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Lori J. Robinson said.
“Sammy and his staff also spearheaded increased collaboration in missile defense and synchronized efforts in the deployment of a second early-warning radar,” she said.
Robinson noted the recent successful deployment of U.S. forces from Japan to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“His (Angelella’s) airmen flew over 5,000 combat hours (as part of the battle against the Islamic State last summer) at a surge rate double that of normal wartime planning,” she said. “When over 40,000 civilians were trapped on Sinjar Mountain, our Misawa airmen led attacks against (Islamic State) forces and paved the way for humanitarian airdrops and these civilians’ eventual escape.”
Angelella had provided guidance and support for the Japanese Self Defense Force’s joint staff as it prepared for its increased role, Robinson said.
Japan is in the process of reinterpreting its pacifist constitution to allow for collective defense.
Angelella ended his time in Japan with praise for U.S. servicemembers and their efforts to aid victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 and in Nepal following this year’s earthquake.
“The U.S. and Japan are readying the alliance for the challenges of the future and reaffirming its role as the guarantor of peace and stability in the Asia Pacific,” he said.