U.S Marines’ transfer to Guam from Okinawa to start in December

Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz Commanding Officer Col. Ernest Govea leads Marines and corps supporters as they make their way down the final stretch to complete the Corps’ 248th Birthday Run on Camp Blaz in Dededo on Nov. 9, 2023. Rick Cruz/Pacific Daily News

The transfer of U.S Marine Corps troops stationed in Japan’s Okinawa to Guam will start in December, a Marines official said Sunday, the latest development in a long-agreed Japan-U.S forces realignment plan aimed at reducing the southern island prefecture’s base-hosting burden. 

The plan to move 4,000 of the approximately 19,000 Marines currently in Okinawa, agreed upon in 2012, is set to be completed by around 2028, according the Congressional Research Service and other sources. 

With the United States also planning to move around 5,000 more Marines to locations such as Hawaii and the U.S mainland, the number stationed in Okinawa is eventually expected to drop to around 10,000, they said. 

Due to the legacy of the U.S occupation after World War II and Okinawa’s strategic importance owing to its relative proximity to China and the Korean Peninsula, the prefecture has hosted the bulk of U.S military facilities in Japan and its residents have for decades bristled at crime and pollution linked to the military presence. 

Implementation of the plan to relocate Marines personnel would likely be welcomed by local residents, but it remains uncertain to what extent they will feel a reduction in burden, given the central government’s efforts to beef up Japan’s defence posture amid China’s growing military assertiveness in the region. 

In Guam, a key strategic location in the Indo-Pacific where a third of the island’s land is owned by the U.S military, construction works have started for Camp Blaz, the relocation site for the Marines from Okinawa. 

The cost of the Guam transfer is estimated at US$8.7 billion, of which up to US$2.8 billion will be shouldered by the Japanese government. 

Under the Japan-U.S forces realignment road map agreed in 2006, the transfer of the Marines to Guam was interconnected with a centrepiece plan to move the U.S Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from the residential district of Ginowan to the less densely populated Henoko coastal area in Nago within Okinawa. 

But Japan and the United States agreed in 2012 to “delink” the Futenma relocation plan with the Guam transfer plan amid a lack of tangible progress on the Futenma project, with locals calling for moving the base out of Okinawa. 

The following year the two countries said that the transfer to Guam will begin in the first half of the 2020s. 

In January 2023, defence and foreign chiefs of Japan and the United States agreed in Washington on “accelerating” work on U.S force realignment efforts, affirming a plan to start the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam in 2024. 

Okinawa Prefecture hosts over 70 percent of facilities exclusively used by the U. S military despite accounting for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land area.