On Thursday, the Okinawa prefectural assembly voted unanimously in support of a resolution that demands the immediate suspension of U.S. Marine Corps aircraft conducting flights or drills over local schools and hospitals. The decision follows an incident that involved a window falling out of a Marine Corps CH-53 helicopter over an elementary school last week, indirectly injuring one child.
“No more threat to the lives of people in Okinawa should be tolerated,” the resolution states.
The resolution goes on to state that there have been too many incidents involving American aircraft near and over Japan to tolerate, adding that the frequency of such incidents has gone up since last year. In October, another CH-53 Sea Stallion crash landed and caught fire on private property in the nearby village of Higashi.
“Accidents by the U.S. Marine Corps are continuing. We want to communicate to the U.S. side that we demand safe operations,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters after the incident at the school.
The Marine Corps has suffered a number of aircraft failures over the past year, in Japan and elsewhere in the world. Some have argued that these incidents could have been avoided if the Defense Department were properly funded to conduct the necessary training and maintenance needed to keep Marines safe: a problem that extends beyond the total dollar value of the defense budget, and into issues with timeliness. It has become common place for lawmakers to wait until after the start of a fiscal year to establish a budget, leaving the Marine Corps and other branches forced to operate under continuing resolution accounting for weeks or months each year, until Congress and the Senate are able to make a determination on spending.
According to the resolution passed by the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, the Marine Corps’ “safety management and recurrence prevention measures are not working,” adding that as a result of these incidents, tensions between the residents of the prefecture and the U.S. military personnel stationed there are growing.
“A feeling of distrust is mounting among Okinawa people as these incidents vividly illustrate that the U.S. military’s measures to prevent similar accidents are not functioning.” The assembly wrote in a statement submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty.
The assembly told the press that they intend to present the resolution to U.S. military officials at Futenma Air Station, where the CH-53 helicopter flew out of, and to the Japanese government. They also demanded Japanese and American officials honor a previous agreement that called for all military operations out of the Nakaima air base to stop by February of 2019.
The Marine Corps has acknowledged the issue and apologized to the local populous, citing human error, rather than mechanical issues for the widow falling into the elementary school field. Gravel kicked up by the window’s impact struck one child in the arm, causing minor injuries.
“This is a regrettable incident and we apologize for any anxiety it has caused the community,” read the Marine Corps statement.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons