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Although the ocean is just beyond the next rise, the air gets so thick with smoke from farmers burning rice stalks that Hunter will switch on the car's lights during daytime as he drives through the valley and into hills spread with potato fields, vineyards and clumps of pine.

Life in the little city

Each morning, the two soldiers meet with leaders from the other two entities at the base: Raytheon Co., which runs the radar, and Chenega Blackwater Solutions, which provides the security.

They discuss the past 24 hours, the upcoming day and any problems, orders or exercises under way. The Shariki site is run by the Missile Defense Agency, which oversees the Raytheon contract. The CBS guards answer more directly to Hunter's unit, which is attached to the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command in Hawaii.

The Americans work closely with the nearby 21st Air Defense Missile Squadron, part of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The JASDF base has occupied the bluff since 1980. Now its 300 airmen staff four Japanese- built Patriot missiles and monitor the international waters that separate Honshu from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.

Some of the contracted guards look at their time in Shariki as a peaceful tour that lets them save money, take college classes, work out and learn a little Japanese. The married workers, for the most part, make weekend commutes to Misawa to see their families.

The base

Americans moved into Shariki under an agreement with the Japanese in 2006. They brought with them concentric rings of wire fences, pre- fabricated trailer offices and enough generator power to light up the entire village.

The radar site itself lies down a dirt road lined with warnings against trespassing and taking pictures. Gravel coats the grass, and no one is allowed on base without prior approval. Those without "secret" government clearance must be kept under watch at all times.

After more than a year at the site, permanent bathrooms are just going up. The soldiers and contractors work in trailers, the kind with wooden planks for floors and no insulation. Last winter, they worked with their coats on.

Soon, the site will have a permanent office building, Hunter says. Soon, the unit will welcome a third military member. Soon, Hunter hopes, the unit will have a car.

Setting up the base involves extreme patience and self-reliance. Just last week, Hunter finally welcomed the first translator to his staff. Previously he had used the handful of contractors who speak Japanese, or a few of the Japanese airmen who speak English, to conduct meetings with local officials and send out correspondence.

The airmen make good neighbors and partners, Hunter and Williams say. The Japanese squadron's commander, Lt. Col. Masaru Ohta, makes sure the Americans get invited to local community events and military ceremonies.

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