Friday, October 5, 2012

The Osprey

It seems that the Japanese people are not excited about the arrival of the MV-22 (Osprey).  To be fair, some really don’t care.  But overall, the Japanese – inclusive of the Okinawans – do not want the Osprey.

The Osprey is one of the newest additions to the Air Combat Element.  It is a hybrid helicopter/fixed-wing plane.  It takes off vertically, and then converts to take material over a larger distance in faster time than the standard helicopter.  More importantly, it will replace the CH-46 Sea Knights that have been in Okinawa for over 40 years now.

I’m not writing in defense of Marine Corps aviation or the Osprey.  There are much more eloquent voices on the subject. I do not have a comment on safety or protocols for these planes.  But I would really like to take a flight in one.

What is truly impressive is the protest.  Last week, prior to the start of the typhoon, it was reported that some 20,000 had taken to the streets to block the entrances of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

It should be noted that the Ospreys were coming from mainland Japan, and had no intention of driving through the gates of Futenma.  But I get the symbolic gesture.
I have a friend – another chaplain – who got locked onto the base for days simply because of the protests that continued again after the typhoon.  For awhile, my car was locked on base and I couldn’t find out if it was wrecked in the typhoon.  (Don’t worry, the Marshmellow is OK – but not every car faired well.)

Big signs line the park at the entrance of Futenma declaring: “We don’t need no MV-22s” and “Osprey not safe”.  Vans painted blue with bright yellow lettering reinforce the message; “Keep Osprey out of Oki”.

Chants are shouted in English and Japanese.  I drove behind a van with a loud speaker attached to the roof, as it declared that the Osprey would kill children… and that is what was said in English.  I’m not sure the Japanese version was as calm.
Marines, in the meantime, are more or less on lockdown and are told to be on their best behavior in town.  Any spark could soil relations with Japan for a very long time.
We are not allowed to walk, bike, skateboard or roller blade past “International Friendship Park” (the square in front of Futenma). 
Roll up your windows.  Lock your doors.
Turn on your flashers.
Follow the directions of the Okinawan police.
Then follow the directions of the first line of Base guards.
Then follow the direction of the gate guards.
Please don’t hit anybody.

The protests are now entering their second week.  Many of the protesters are sponsored by organization and have no end in sight.  I hope that this is just something that will take time, but that we will be able to move forward.

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