International students tour Futenma, expand academic understanding
OKINAWA, Japan -- International students with Soka University of America toured Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Jan. 16 to develop a better understanding of the force laydown of U.S. installations on Okinawa and the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
The trip was part of an intensive “learning cluster” of coursework under the direction of Jay M. Heffron, a history professor and dean of students at the university.
“The students were able to learn a lot about the military bases across Okinawa,” said Heffron. “The visit helped the students learn about the military without being influenced by resources in the U.S., which may not give an unbiased opinion.”
During the visit, the students were able to meet with military and civilian personnel who answered questions regarding U.S. service members’ interaction with their Japan Self-Defense Force counterparts and local community.
“Aside from (building) relations and coordination with the community, the U.S. forces support the host nation (Japan) by facilitating relations with other nations and forces to participate in exercises across the Asia-Pacific region,” said Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff for G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “The U.S. provides a bridge for Japan, so that involvements in exercises such as Cobra Gold (in Thailand) are possible.”
The students asked questions about potential restructuring of Japan’s policies and constitution and their effects on U.S. efforts with the JSDF in the Asia-Pacific region.
“(The JSDF) is working to become more like the Marine Corps by improving their amphibious efforts and quicker decision-making and response efforts,” said Eldridge. “Being able to participate in exercises through the support of the U.S. military allows them to strengthen their forces.”
The students viewed a static display of the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, so they could learn about its missions and capabilities.
“The briefings discussed the Osprey and how it was used in support (of the humanitarian effort) in the Philippines,” said Duyen Pham, a student at Soka University of America. “We gained a lot more respect and understanding for the Osprey pilots.”
At the end of the visit, many of the students expressed revised opinions, compared to those they held before the tour.
“The whole experience was overwhelming and eye-opening,” said Nicole Inamine, a student at the university. “It gave us an unbiased perspective, which is what we were looking for.”
The students are interested in the well-being and positive progression of humanity, and understand the importance of military involvement in accomplishing this goal, according to Heffron.
"Issues that are important to us are important to the military as well,” said Heffron. “By learning about something upfront, it helps understand the situation in Okinawa.”