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Okinawa rotations may uproot permanent troops

Nov. 12, 2012 - 08:23AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 12, 2012 - 08:23AM  |  
Lance Cpl. Michael H. Alfaro, a combat engineer with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, cuts wood at Camp Hansen's Central Training Area on Oct. 3. Marines repaired huts that can be used to shelter Marines, store ammunition and equipment, or function as office spaces during training evolutions in Okinawa, Japan.
Lance Cpl. Michael H. Alfaro, a combat engineer with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, cuts wood at Camp Hansen's Central Training Area on Oct. 3. Marines repaired huts that can be used to shelter Marines, store ammunition and equipment, or function as office spaces during training evolutions in Okinawa, Japan. (LANCE CPL. DANIEL VALLE / MARINE CORPS)
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By early next year, the Marine Corps plans to send a second infantry battalion to Okinawa for six months as part of the resumption of the Unit Deployment Program in Japan. A third is expected to follow later in 2013.

But the expansion of the UDP rotations, which until recently had not included infantry battalions because they were instead deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, has raised questions about how the Corps plans to accommodate those additional Marines. The barracks at the Okinawa camps are already filled with other Marines, including permanent personnel assigned to the island.

When 700 men with Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, landed in Okinawa in June, it marked the first rotation of infantry units to Japan since 2003. The rotations, which typically last about six months, enable the Corps to augment III Marine Expeditionary Force without having to increase the number of Marines who must be assigned to Okinawa on longer, unaccompanied tours.

But one staff noncommissioned officer complained to Marine Corps Times last month that he and other staff NCOs are getting kicked out of the barracks at Camp Hansen, which are close to their work, and reassigned to bachelor quarters at installations much farther away. The SNCOs being told to move are permanent personnel and either single or married on a one- or two-year unaccompanied tour.

"Right now, there does not [seem] to be a short-term or long-term plan to deal with the barracks room shortages that are taking place all across Okinawa," the Marine wrote. "Everyone just seems to be placed randomly across Okinawa, with some getting approved [for overseas housing allowance] and some just simply being reassigned to a barracks at one of the other camps."

He said he thinks the rotating UDP units should be housed in temporary facilities, since they don't stay in Japan as long as permanent personnel.

One spokesman said the Marine Corps plans to continue to put rotational units in the barracks at the infantry camps.

"The Marine ground units under the Unit Deployment Program will be housed primarily at Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab," wrote Capt. Justin Jacobs, a Marine Corps Installations-Pacific and III Marine Expeditionary Force spokesman, in response to a query. "These installations have existing barracks, messing, equipment and support facilities that have been used by UDP units since the program was established in 1977. Additionally, Marines will have access to the same high level of quality of life programs while they are deployed to Okinawa."

But with more units rotating to Okinawa starting next year, it's unclear what the impact will be in accommodating those Marines at existing bachelor quarters occupied by other Marines. Questions about the plans to shift them to barracks at other camps went unanswered. The staff NCO contends the long commutes he and others face put them in rush-hour traffic, waste time and cost them more money out of pocket. A drive in often heavy traffic to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, for example, could take up to two hours. The free Green Line buses that run between camps are options, he said, but they take even longer.

"We are moving permanent personnel to accommodate a six-month deployment and creating additional hardships on unaccompanied (and) single Marines," he said. "Isn't there a squad bay or a warehouse that can be converted to accommodate" those units?

Some barracks in Okinawa lack in-room kitchens, which staff NCOs rate, so they have to bear the extra costs of eating in the mess hall or fork over money to buy local meals and food, he argued. "There is no plan and it seems that there is an ‘every man for himself' attitude going on right now," he added.

A combination of permanent personnel Marines on one- and two-year unaccompanied orders and two- or three-year permanent-change-of-station orders and rotating battalions, batteries and companies of Marines fill out III MEF and its subordinate units, including 4th Marines and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is supported by a separate unit rotation of infantry units as its ground combat element.

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