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Hawaii must prepare for move of up to 2,700 Marines, Inouye says

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 2:53 p.m. HST, Apr 24, 2012

The U.S. will move as many as 2,700 Marines from Japan to Hawaii as the Pentagon scales back a $21.1 billion blueprint for Guam, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye confirmed today.

"This troop movement will occur after extensive discussions with the leaders of Japan and it highlights Hawaii's importance as the focus of our national defense shifts to the Asia-Pacific region," Inouye said.

The Pentagon is expected to announce as soon as tomorrow that it intends to send about 4,700 U.S. Marines now stationed in Japan to Guam, as previously reported, as well as the contingent going to Hawaii, according to two people familiar with the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan hasn't been made public.

"There is a lot of work that needs to be done (in Hawaii) to prepare for their arrival," Inouye said. "We must build more housing, secure more training areas and improve and expand infrastructure while working with the counties and the state to make certain the Marines transition easily into their new duty station in Hawaii. The one thing I am confident of, is that the people of Hawaii will welcome these brave men and women and their families with Aloha," said Inouye.

Marines also will rotate through Australia, and hundreds will be stationed on the U.S. mainland, probably on the West Coast, the people said.

Under a 2006 agreement with Japan, 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents were to be transferred from the island of Okinawa in Japan almost 1,500 miles south to Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, by 2014. Now, the Obama administration is seeking a less costly plan in a time of defense spending cutbacks even as its strategy places added emphasis on projecting force in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the number of Marines going to Guam under the revised plan was previously reported, the numbers to be based in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland hadn't been resolved.

"Since taking office, I have had discussions with officials from the U.S. Pacific Command in anticipation of a Marine transfer from Okinawa to Hawaii," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement. "I also met with Okinawa Prefectural Governor Hirokazu Nakaima on this matter when I visited in October," he said.

"As the Pentagon finalizes its plans, I believe the number of Marines moving to our state will increase and we are well prepared to receive them. While in Congress, I worked on key legislation that allowed for ample military housing. In my role as governor I am working to ensure that there is ongoing military and state cooperation to allow for a seamless and smooth transition for our servicemen and women and their families."

About 60 percent of the Marines going to Guam will be based in the territory temporarily, known as "on rotation," rather than being permanently stationed there, according to one of the people familiar with the plan.

Okinawans have long called for the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be closed, citing crime and pollution. The Obama administration's plans to move Marine Corps expeditionary forces out of Japan are no longer contingent on progress in building a new site at Kadena Air Base on the island for Marine aviation units.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta phoned Japan's Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka yesterday "to discuss the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa and Guam," according to Navy Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.

"Panetta said he looked forward to an official announcement in the very near future outlining specifics of the mutually agreed-upon way forward," Kirby said in a statement posted on the Pentagon's website. Pentagon spokeswoman Leslie Hull said today she couldn't provide details beyond Panetta's call.

Japan's bill for the relocation of the U.S. Marines will be $3.1 billion in 2012 dollars, a reduction from that nation's initial commitment to provide as much as $6.09 billion to fund the move of some forces to Guam and to replace Futenma.

The Obama administration also is engaged in discussions with the Philippines and Australia as it seeks to realign forces in the region. Earlier this year, Philippine officials said they were seeking closer ties with the U.S., including a "rotating and more frequent" military presence to deter China from operating in disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The Pentagon's proposal to move Marines from Japan to Hawaii, Guam and Australia must be approved by Congress, and lawmakers may reject any plan until the Defense Department submits an independent assessment of its strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region, three U.S. senators said in a letter to Panetta today.

Conditions set by Congress to move Marines out of Japan haven't been met by the Pentagon, Senators Carl Levin, John McCain and Jim Webb said. Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee; McCain of Arizona is the top Republican on the panel, and Webb, a Virginia Democrat, is a committee member.

"We require additional information regarding how this proposal relates to the broader strategic concept of operations in the region, the Marine Corps' concept of operations, master plans, and alternatives to base realignments on Guam and Okinawa, as well as the positioning of U.S. Air Force units in the Asia-Pacific region," the lawmakers wrote.

The senators said they understood the administration plans to announce an agreement on moving forces out of Okinawa in advance of a visit by Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is scheduled to meet with Obama on April 30.

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