Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Living on Base?

How many USFJ personnel live on base?
By Travis J. Tritten
Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, March 26, 2008

About 75 percent of United States servicemembers and civilians in Japan lived on military installations last year, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense.

That number was higher — 77 percent living on bases — in Okinawa prefecture, where recent alleged crimes by servicemembers have caused some Japanese politicians to question the number of Americans living off base.

The U.S. military’s goal is to provide on-base housing for about 80 percent of those living in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement, U.S. Forces Japan said.

Half of the 10 base residential areas in Okinawa with a population of at least 800 SOFA-status residents were at or above that goal last year, the Ministry of Defense reported.

On mainland Japan, just one of five prefectures with a U.S. military presence made the 80 percent goal. Three prefectures came within 8 percent of the goal, according to the defense ministry. The housing figures were collected in March 2007.

“We are in constant coordination with the government of Japan to acquire more base housing,” said Col. Michael Presnell, director of logistics and installations for USFJ.

In February, Japanese delegates from Okinawa filed a protest with USFJ urging the military to move more servicemembers onto bases following the alleged rape that month of a 14-year-old girl by a Marine. Japanese investigators decided not to press charges, but the Marine remains in U.S. military custody.

The Marine was an off-base resident and “the fact that servicemembers live in local communities has never been acknowledged before as a problem,” said Shusei Arakawa, a member of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly’s Special Committee on Military Affairs and former Okinawa City mayor.

It is also a waste if on-base housing built with Japanese taxpayers’ money remains vacant, Arakawa said.

USFJ tries to fill 90 percent of its on-base housing units, though that figure fluctuates depending on maintenance and changing base populations, Presnell said.

Even environmental factors such as humidity can affect the percentage of occupied base housing. In Okinawa, 248 units are on hold due to heat and humidity issues, Presnell said.

Overall, there are many factors that determine where SOFA-status residents live including available housing units and land, Japan and U.S. construction funding and residents’ personal choices.

For example, Sasebo Naval Base has the lowest percentage of SOFA residents living on base of any area in Japan. Only 55 percent have on-base housing, according to the Japanese government.

But over 90 percent of its on-base housing units are occupied, Presnell said.

The Sasebo facility is squeezed by geography and has little room to grow. Sasebo city’s bustling downtown curves around the small main base and the largest concentration of housing, the Hario housing facility, is a 30-minute drive to the south.

The lack of space for new housing is one reason 350 to 400 families live off base in Sasebo communities.

Meanwhile, one of Sasebo’s largest renovation projects ever is under way and will upgrade hundreds of its existing housing units, which are beginning to age.

On-base occupancy “depends what is available and what we can build. Sasebo is limited in space,” said Donald Chang, an engineer with USFJ who negotiates with the Japanese government over housing needs.

At Sasebo and other bases, getting the money just to maintain or upgrade existing base housing can be a major undertaking.

The Sasebo housing project is part of more than $360 million requested by the U.S. military this fiscal year to maintain base housing in the Pacific, according to USFJ.

Living on or off base is also often a choice or privilege, depending on the rules of individual base commands.

Residents arriving in Sasebo can choose to enter the waiting list for base housing or opt for living in the Japanese community, according to the base Web site.

Those who choose to live off base lose the right to a courtesy move and any future move into government housing will be at their expense, according to the base.

Anyone arriving at Okinawa must apply for base housing, though depending on the time of year, “command-sponsored families can expect about a four- to 12-month wait before moving on base,” according to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Yokota Air Base in Tokyo has strict rules requiring any available on-base housing to be filled by unaccompanied or accompanied servicemembers alike, according to the Air Force.

That prefecture also has the highest percentage of SOFA-status residents living on base — 90 percent of more than 8,302 residents.

Numbers, locations of SOFA-status residents

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