31 December 2006

Views of Japan or how I spent my summer vacation.

So this past summer I spent time at a USMC airbase in Japan. It was interesting in a number of ways. We were billeted at a town called Iwakuni which is about an hour train ride from Hiroshima, or Hiro in local terms, and about 2 hours south of Sasebo where the amphibious forces were at that support 7th Fleet. There isn't that much to the down-town area of Iwakuni. Just a large shopping center around the train station and then homes and office building growing up from there. The biggest industry to Iwakuni is the heavy port and fishing.
We share the airbase with elements of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force naval air units. Of which are primarily P-3's and some rescue planes called the US-1 and finally some anti-mine helos based around the MH-53 that the US Navy uses. The US-1's are the ones that really impressed me the most, just at sun up at least 2-3 of them left and went out on missions and I wouldn't see anymore until about 1400 when the dawn patrol finally returned and the afternoon patrol went out. These things are huge, they look like an older flying boat that the US Navy use to have called the P5M Marlin but with turboprops instead of radial engines. Oh and the US-1 is an amphibian since it takes off and can land on the runway.
Living arrangements weren't that bad for us. It wasn't open bay, that was a temporary holding barracks until public works could find the keys for ours. However the showers were high school locker room style though. Just a bunch of shower heads sticking out of the tiled wall. On the other side of the room was a bench with some coat hooks above to hang your towel and shower kit on. Other then that there was 6 swinging johnsons out there. It became an issue of trying to get in and out in time with out scoping out anyone else. The only other issue for a few people was the cockroaches. These suckers were huge, at least 2 inches long. I remember standing watch as BPO a couple of times and see some of our females running out of a room because a couple of them came out of the walls to play. We got most of them cleaned up after a giving up a weekend to pull everything apart and get rid of all the eggs, food, and living relatives. I know that we can't beat the suckers but we did get it to the point that is was manageable. The only other thing that I could complain about was that the building wasn't wired for cable completely, so if you had a TV in your room you were lucky to be able to catch cable. Cable on a US military station overseas isn't much, in case you are wondering. One of my friends had a TV and had Cable. He got two local base channels, 5 AFN (Armed Forces Network) channels, and 2 local Japanese channels (and one of those was pretty static filled). The 2 local base channels weren't much one was like the community access channel back in the states it ran a scroll er of events and at 6am and 5pm would run about 30mins of base news from the local media guys. The other base channel was our own version of the weather channel. It constantly showed a map of the region with diagrams showing the fronts, then skip to the satellite views (both visual and radar), before running to a 7-day graphic. However, this had no audio beyond playing the local base radio station on the air, so you sort of had to guesstimate or wait for another graphic to show up before deciding what the weather was going to due. I just found it easy to look out my window and play it by ear.
AFRTS and AFN programming isn't that bad either you just don't get a chance to see commercials. Just propaganda commercials. These are things similar to talking about the history of a uniform item, explaining a right a military member has, or talking about general service history. They do this because the major production companies sell AFRTS as a well discounted service most some of the top 25 television shows to be shown overseas. I had seen AFRTS on the boat and was use to what they show. Basically they have 2 regular programming channels one for Europe and one for Asia. Then they have one dedicated just for sports sort of like the US military's version of ESPN but they use ESPN/NFL Network/MLB Network/Fox Sports and a NASCAR to show things such as baseball games and NASCAR races along with presenting sporting news. We also get just one all news channel which shows important shows from the major news networks along with the services own internal news programs. The funniest thing is depending on who was on top last year in the ratings games will depend on who was shown first in the morning of the three major morning shows. However we don't get 3 hours of it, rather a hour individually of GMA, Today, and This Morning. The same is true at for the nightly news shows, then they will show important news programs such as Bill O'Relliey, Larry King and 60 minutes. The final station that AFRTS provides is something similar to the generic syndication station on your cable dial. We get movies on it for about 75% of the time and at other times TV shows will pop up on the sucker.
The 2 local Japanese stations were split between one from Iwakuni itself and the other was coming from Hiroshima. We really didn't understand that much which was being explained on those stations. The only thing me and a couple of my friends use to watch those for was to catch the Hiroshima Carp games.

Hiroshima. I had a chance to go in town there and saw the museum and the atomic memorial. It was something that made me think for a little bit. Mainly about the horror inflicted by the use of the nuclear bomb on that city. The museum is really awe inspiring, it sits about a football field from ground zero and the first half of the museum has scale models of the city before along with panels up talking about the importance of Hiroshima from the days of Shoguns up to the military government in the 30's. They talked about the war and even had some of the monitoring equipment that was dropped that day which was recovered. From there after walking over a glass bridge to the other half of the museum. The other half of the museum talks about the human toll. There are bamboo dummies wearing clothes of school kids that were killed that day or days after words, pictures of the people suffering the burns, and stuff on a whole that makes people feel disgusted. It was too much of an American lady in one near one of the displays. She actually tosses her cookies all over the floor after looking at a display of a school girls clothes and hair, all the while while a TV near it showed a movie produced showing the progression of radiation sickness on her. The day I went which was a couple of weekends before the anniversary day. So the public park all around the museum and memorial were only slightly full of various protest groups looking for people to sign their petitions outlawing nuclear weapons and had signs up about North Korea. I was told by a local guy on the base that on August 6th that park fills up with all sorts of people coming to pray and protest about the bombing. He said it reminded him of something similar to the 4th of July celebration in the States.
North Korea god what a mess. The day I show up they were making noise about launching missiles and with in a couple of days they did launch a couple of missiles. That same day we drew our field gear from the air wing supply folks. The field gear for in case we went into the field in some place such as Korea. We drew a ton of stuff too, things that at the time didn't make sense like 3 sets of thermals and a couple fleece tops. It was the high point of summer when I was there. Anyhow, the Korean thing was the constant item on the front page of all the newspapers on the base and on the all the local Japanese news (which I started to learn how to decipher with the help of a bar keeper). We had people in the squadron that were afraid of what was going on. The best part was explaining that even if we did deploy there it would probably be at an Air Force base and sort of being living some what high off the hog since we would start to draw all sorts of additional pay. Let alone probably be living in USAF barracks. Even if we did have to live in tents they would be nice tents. Similar to portable class room size, which is even still more room then what the boat would provide. The biggest downsize would be running around in MOPP gear. Anyhow, none of that came to pass and at least for me I kept a little pot cooking in the back of my mind to know how to build up a box to ship home of crap I didn't need if I did have to go to war.
The only thing to worry about besides the Koreans was typhoons. Because it was the summer and the summer in the Western Pacific is typhoon season, just like it is hurricane season on the gulf coast. We were indoc'ed into the Tropical Cyclone conditions and warnings with in days of us arriving. So every so often we had to listen to a commercial on the AFRTS radio station again explaining what those conditions were and what our jobs were supposed to be. Basically were were to take cover with our body armor on and then after the all clear was given go out and clean up. Almost similar if the base came under attack, hmmm. So except for a bunch of close calls that just gave us a ton of rain we didn't have a that much to worry about. Then when it comes close to us leaving we get word that depending on how quickly a bunch of High pressure over the Sea of Japan and Okinawa collapse a typhoon was coming straight for us. The talk went from what we were going to do for the weekend, to what we were supposed to due for this cyclone thingy. I spent part of the night up because of nerves, but also because everyone else was up. The hardest thing to deal with was that 2 days before the base quit selling liquor, otherwise myself and few other people would of started a hurricane party. Through out the night we listened to the local radio station and ate what food we had in our rooms, let alone tried to keep ourselves entertained. In the end this typhoon came close and then hit a couple of islands near Kyushu and made a bee line for the Koreas. So it basically ended up being a bunch of rain and wind. Which coming from the Seattle area I had grown up use to.

Those are my glimpses of Japan and basically how I spent my summer vacation. It was almost like a 3 month port visit with some of the rules, but if I had the chance I would try and come back to the area. Those this time with a Navy command under a Navy chain of command. I also know this long and scatterbrained, but I am writing it down as I remember it. My mind is scatter brained at times.
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