Tiny base assimilates into Japanese town To allay locals' health fears, housing built close to radar By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes Pacific edition, Monday, October 8, 2007
In Shariki, selecting the right place for American workers' housing involved more than worrying about a daily commute.
For the 100 or so government contractors and two U.S. Army soldiers now living in and around the tiny Japanese village near the Sea of Japan, setting up a homestead also sent a message about their mission, according to the company commander at Shariki Communications Site.
"There were some people that told us, if you build that housing (elsewhere), it will be a public relations disaster," said Capt. Will Hunter, whose unit in Shariki is attached to the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command in Hawaii. "It implies that you don't think it's safe to live around the radar."
The radar is the AN/TPY-2, which points high-powered radio waves westward toward mainland Asia to hunt for enemy missiles headed east toward America or its allies. The system is serious - it could burn a person standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, Hunter says.
That hasn't happened, he says, and occasional testing by the Americans and Japanese has found the radar does not interfere with local cell phones or harm local farming. Still, showing is better than telling, and that means building a housing complex for the Americans only a five-minute drive from the site.
It's an apt example of how community relations can take on special meaning when a seaside village of 5,500 Japanese residents finds itself hosting several dozen Americans.
Hunter, the first commander of the year-old unit, has spent much of the past year making and implementing decisions like housing location. He's also become a local ambassador of sorts at festivals, parades, Japanese military ceremonies and even afternoon cookouts.
"I think that's my bigger job," he said when weighing building relationships with local residents against his other tasks, working with the contractors and ensuring security of the radar site.
For Hunter, much of the community relations means establishing safety procedures and conveniences for the Americans. He has set up phone lists and emergency procedures with local police and other officials so languages won't be barriers to a response to Americans in need.
The local community has responded as well. Lt. Col. Masaru Ohta, the Japan Air Self Defense Force's 21st Air Defense Missile Squadron commander, ensures Americans get invited to festivals and meetings. And the city of Tsugaru, which oversees the smaller community of Shariki, has built a police koban in the village.