Pass the Ammo, Please
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan, Apr. 14, 1997 When Army Master Sgt. Joe Itoh needs munitions for a major exercise, he goes to the Air Force. So does Navy Chief Warrant Officer Richard Brasko.
That's because the 18th Munitions Squadron here handles all the bullets, all the bombs and all the missiles and mines all American military on Okinawa use.
"We store and ship munitions for air and surface use throughout the western Pacific," said Chief Master Sgt. John Hough, maintenance superintendent. "That includes the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines." Hough said the arrangement saves resources and makes handling munitions safer. The Air Force is able to meet everyone's needs, he said, because of the unit's size and capacity.
"We're the largest munitions squadron in the Air Force and take up the largest amount of space on Kadena Air Base," Hough said. Pointing to a map, he showed that the ammunition storage area is larger than Kadena proper by 1,000 acres.
The area occupies 9,200 acres of high ground and includes nearly 600 concrete igloos, magazines, warehouses, Quonset huts and other buildings connected by 105 miles of paved and dirt roads and surrounded by 37 miles of fence line. Each service's munitions are stored separately. More than 400 DoD and Japanese employees manage 46,000 tons of munitions worth nearly $806 million.
Brasko, Itoh and others from the sister services work with Hough and his staff to pick up and transfer munitions to trucks, aircraft and ships. "Ninety-five percent of the munitions is forward-based here to support readiness requirements," Hough said. The remainder supports the hundreds of exercises and training activities conducted in the area every year, from Guam to India.
An interservice support agreement governs the operation, but the close-knit relationship between the services produces many a handshake deal.
"The Air Force does far more to support us than the agreement requires," Itoh acknowledged. "If we have a special requirement, I can call here, and they'll do whatever it takes."
Brasko, whose naval service depended heavily on the squadron for the recent multinational exercise Tandem Thrust, concurred. "We work well together. The Air Force understands our needs and its responsibility to support more than its own flying operations. This is joint operations at its best."
The services reciprocate whenever they can, Hough said. "For example, the Marines have the largest forklifts here, and we frequently ask them to help us with large weapons loads. We rely heavily on the other services for personnel, equipment and container movement."
Currently, all munitions are stacked and stored on pallets, but by 2000, they'll be sheltered and distributed in iron shipping containers.
"The commercial shipping industry is moving away from palletized cargo to the containerized system," Hough said. "DoD relies heavily on commercial carriers in the Pacific, so we began preparing for conversion in the early 1990s." High in the hills above the Kadena flight line, stacks of the containers stand beside concrete bunkers, evidence of modernization.
Ironically, the storage area also contains some of the prettiest terrain on Okinawa. Tall pines and deciduous trees are interspersed with grass covered igloos and high promontories offering great vistas of Kadena and the cities below. Wildlife flock to the site, and Japanese schoolchildren come to visit, not to see the bullets but the beauty.