July 15, 2014 (by Cpl. Natalie Rostran) - Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 marked the beginning of its transfer to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni during a ceremony July 15 at MCAS Futenma.
USMC KC-130J #168065 takes to the sky July 15, from MCAS Futenma during VMGR-152’s take off ceremony. The aircraft is the first to make the official flight to their new hangar on MCAS Iwakuni. [USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Pete Sanders]
The transfer of VMGR-152 is part of the U.S. Marine Corps and Government of Japan’s bilateral effort to reduce impact to communities around MCAS Futenma, realign the presence and distribute the activities of U.S. forces in Japan. The squadron is with Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
Brig. Gen. Paul J. Kennedy, the deputy commanding general of III MEF and commanding general of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, opened the ceremony with remarks highlighting the progress marked by the event.
“The movement of this first aircraft, along with the work over the past years to prepare facilities, and the effort which will continue in the future to complete the move of the entire squadron, represents significant reduction of aviation training and noise impacts to our host community surrounding MCAS Futenma,” said Kennedy. “The transfer of VMGR-152 and the associated aircraft, equipment, personnel and family members to Iwakuni marks steady, continued progress as we work together with the Government of Japan and the Okinawa prefectural government on this important effort.
“I am proud to say that this step is just the latest in a series of continuing successful steps to reduce impact in Okinawa,” added Kennedy. “Including cooperating with our Ground Self-Defense Force partners to conduct more training in mainland Japan, the MV-22 training off-island to increase our interoperability, the steady implementation and expansion of the aviation training relocation program, the steady implementation of artillery relocation training and parachute relocation training, humanitarian access agreements, the continued aircraft noise abatement, steady consolidation and land returns, and much more.”
Toshihisa Takata, ambassador in charge of Okinawan Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, emphasized the progress made by the squadron’s move.
“The kickoff of this visible effort for impact mitigation in Okinawa is our bilateral commitment at the highest level of the two governments,” said Takata. “The Government of Japan will continue to work on issues on the operational requirement of the KC-130s in a cooperative manner with the government of the U.S. I’d like to express my gratitude for your continuous engagement with strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance as well as all your constructive efforts and initiatives to further the relationships with your host communities.”
Although the squadron, known as the ‘Sumos,’ is now based in Iwakuni, the aircraft will continue to fly in and out of MCAS Futenma in support of the training and operations with the remainder of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force based on Okinawa. The KC-130J Super Hercules’ provide proper training and support for ground forces, perform exercises to ensure readiness, and dramatically enhance III MEF’s ability to respond to crisis. Their continued training with ground and logistics forces on Okinawa is an essential requirement for pilots and crews to support the objectives of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.
While stationed on Okinawa, the Marines with VMGR-152 supported many humanitarian and crisis response efforts to include the 2004 Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami, Operation Tomodachi after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and Operation Damayan following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines toward the end of 2013.
"VMGR-152 has continuously served in the Pacific area of operations longer than any other Marine aviation unit," said Lt. Col. Matthew W. Stover, commanding officer of VMGR-152. "Nearly all of those years have been spent right here in Japan. Thus, our call sign, "Sumos," a Japanese symbol of strength and courage, is the fitting reflection of both the strong and enduring ties of our alliance, and the courage and commitment of our Marines and their families."
As the Marines begin their transfer, Stover bade a heartfelt farewell to Okinawa and its residents.
“My Marines, family members and I leave Okinawa with fond memories – we have lived, worked and raised our families here and enjoyed the warm Okinawan hospitality,” said Stover. “Thank you, Okinawa, for graciously hosting us. Our squadron has earned a strong reputation over the years as professional aviators and Marines, and I am confident that we will further build upon that reputation as we head for Iwakuni. I speak for the squadron when I say, ‘Arigato gozaimusu, Okinawa.’”