Tokyo: A top US Marine Corps commander struck a negative note about the idea that Guam could host all the Marines based in Okinawa, suggesting it would reduce response capability in the event of a contingency in the region near Japan.
Lt Gen Keith Stalder, commander of the Marine Corps` Pacific force in Hawaii, also indicated that the Marine Corps prefers the heliport functions of its Futemma Air Station in Okinawa, at the centre of a political debate in Japan, to be kept within the southern prefecture.
"Guam is not a substitute for Okinawa...Guam is twice as far or more away from some of the critical areas and regions" near Okinawa, Stalder said in response to a question to Kyodo about the idea of moving all Marines to Guam from Okinawa.
Stalder also suggested it is unrealistic to consider separating the heliport functions of the Futemma Air Station in Ginowan from other Okinawa-based Marine units, saying, "The ground forces, the helicopters and the logistic elements need to practice together."
"The helicopter is to the Marine as the horse was to the cavalryman of the old West. The horse did everything with and for him," Stalder told a press conference the same day in Tokyo.
Marines in Okinawa must deal with security and disaster contingencies as "the only forward deployed available the US ground force between Hawaii and India," he said, citing situations in East Asia such as China`s military build-up and North Korea`s missile development.