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US forces must keep training hard in Japan, commander says after deadly midair collision

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry P. Martinez, the U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force commander, engages with aircraft structural maintenance Airmen during his visit at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Oct. 11, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton) (Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Stratton)

United States forces in the Far East need to train hard at night and in bad weather to deter adversaries, America’s top general in Japan told local reporters Wednesday.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, nearing the end of a more than two-year stint as commander of U.S. Forces Japan, spoke about safety and readiness and other topics during a question-and-answer session at the Japan National Press Club.

He began by thanking Japanese forces for their search-and-rescue efforts last month after a pair of U.S. military aircraft collided during nighttime training over the Philippine Sea. Six Marines were killed in the incident.

Martinez also mentioned other collisions involving the Yokosuka, Japan-based USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain in 2017 that resulted in 17 sailors’ deaths.

“The accidents were tragic,” he said, adding that U.S. forces have learned a lot from those incidents and will continue to work hard to remain ready.

“Our adversaries train at high levels,” he said. “If we don’t train at the level that they train our forces won’t be capable.”

Martinez didn’t call out those adversaries by name but outlined recent developments in the region involving China, North Korea and Russia.

U.S. military leaders understand that training impacts local communities and they work hard to mitigate those impacts, he said.

But he added that the need for readiness is greater than ever.

“We need to be ready to win if others choose the path of aggression,” he said.

That means training at night and in bad weather, he added.

“Servicemembers are prepared to give their lives defending this country and ours,” he said. “If we are going to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way, they must be the very best at what they do. They need to train hard.”

The importance that the U.S. places on its alliance with Japan is clear from the many recent official visits by officials ranging from President Donald Trump to Vice President Mike Pence and other high-level military personnel, Martinez said.

He also mentioned efforts by members of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force to help Japan build its amphibious brigade and how the U.S. has brought its latest equipment — such as F-35B Lighting II stealth fighters, C-130J Super Hercules cargo planes, CV-22 Ospreys and the USS Wasp amphibious-assault ship — to the country.

More than 100,000 U.S. servicemembers, civilians and family members are stationed in Japan, Martinez added.

“Our presence is a deterrent against countries who engage in coercion,” he said.


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