TORII STATION, YOMITAN, OKINAWA – With about a month remaining in his time as Senior Army Officer in Okinawa and Commander of the 10 Support Group here, Col. Theodore White spent some time reflecting on his time in command.
Part III of III: Command, the 10th Support Group, and the way forward
On what surprised him most when taking command in 2018:
“Looking back the jointness, as I said earlier (in part I of this series) this is a very joint non-joint environment, was the biggest surprise. The status of the relationships between the Army units on the island was a bit of surprise. Because the chains of command that run off the island are many, and they don’t all necessarily run through me, surprised me but also informed the approach that I needed to take with respect to engaging with the units and ensuring we were all on the same page. And having good relationships with all of those on the island, my constant point of reference was between what’s over my heart and what’s on my left shoulder. What’s on my left shoulder I consider the tribe, what’s over my heart I consider my family. My approach was focused on family. Part of what drove that was having general courts martial convening authority, but also because we are 1,000 miles away from the next nearest Army installation, and my ties to the other service commands here meant anything Army-related on the island will flow through me. It was important for all the commanders to understand the role that I serve, and that I can help make life better for all of them and help solve problems, because I am having conversations with the senior Marine, the senior Airman, or the senior Sailor on the island. It was a big adjustment I had to make, and explain that to the commanders that we might not wear the same patch, but I am in your corner, if you’ve got an issue then bring it to me; and when that occurred I just solved the problem. Which solidified the relationship between me and that particular commander, and with the other military communities.”
On what the 10th Support Group has accomplished over the last two years:
“The level of proficiency, mission execution, and confidence has definitely increased. We have been all over the Pacific in the last two years, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, mainland Japan, Palau, Yap, a lot of places. The unit has the ability to execute its mission throughout the INDOPACOM (U.S. Indo-Pacific Command) AOR. We have extended the reach of our watercraft, throughout the region; the only place we have left to go is India. We have been able to do that, which has been a great story for the Army as it figures out what it will do with these Army water craft, which play a significant role supporting the Marines, other units, INDOPACOM as well as USARPAC (U.S. Army Pacific) missions. That has been significant, definitely a feather in the cap for the unit. We have become much more ingrained within the community here on the island because we have just worked together so much more.”
On the biggest challenge to commanding the 10th RSG:
“While the unit is aligned to U.S. Army Japan, USARPAC and the 8th TSC (Theater Sustainment Command) are out there and they pull on the strings as well. Sometimes it gets a little challenging trying to figure out who exactly you report to, but as a logistician I am very, very comfortable with and used to having multiple bosses. And balancing how I satisfy the needs and demands of each of my commanders. There is one that evaluates my performance on paper, but the others play a role as well.”
On the near future for the Army on Okinawa:
“Is it headed in the right direction, yes. With the additional focus on the INDPACOM AOR, and this being the most competitive and definitely the most complex AOR on the planet, I think the 10th Support Group is positioned very well as that focus continues. As the force structure here continues to change, and I expect it to expand, there will be some growth under the 10th Support Group with various types of units that are being considered for forward stationing. Based on how we have executed mission command of the Army water craft, how we have been able to jump forward into the AOR and execute the reception, staging, and onward movement of forces coming from CONUS (Continental U.S.) or Hawaii, the unit has proven its worth and capabilities. It is ready, relevant and reliable. If you pick up the phone we’ll be able to tell you what we can do, and what we can’t, but we will tell you that if we can’t then if you give us what we need, then we will take care of that part of the mission as well.”
On Okinawa and the Okinawan people:
“This is a beautiful island. I have enjoyed these last two years. It has definitely become ‘home.’ What I will miss the most will be the people. The Okinawans are wonderful, very warm, very open. What I love about the island is its history, there were so many significant events which happened here. We are bearing down on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa. I have come to appreciate the Japanese side of the story. But what can be lost is the story of the Okinawan people. They were literally pinched between the U.S. forces and the Japanese Imperial Army. They suffered some horrific treatment, and in order to truly appreciate what they had to bear, you have to come here. No one will tell the story of the Okinawan people better than the Okinawan people. Much of that history was recorded here, and has not been disseminated widely elsewhere. They are a very proud people; they have a long history, going back to the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom. It is something I explain to Soldiers, on a regular basis, when you hear some of the frustration when something happens on the island, and they refer to events that may have happened in the 1950s or 1970s, they speak about it as if it just occurred. That was part of my adjusting to the island, coming to understand exactly where I am and the people here, that a more than 3000-year traceable history drives their perception and how they view things. We, as a country, are just knocking on 250 years officially and many of us can’t trace our families all the way back 250 years. But here, it is not uncommon for a true native Okinawan, to be able to trace their family back 3,000 or 3,500 years.
“That gives them a strong sense of awareness. A strong allegiance to the Okinawan culture. Which I find absolutely amazing, especially when I have had the opportunity to attend some social events, and one of the leaders will address the crowd and switch back and forth between Japanese and the Okinawan dialect, you can see the true native Okinawans when they laugh at jokes that others simply don’t understand. I have had the luxury and benefit of my MLC advisors and support staff, they are true Okinawans, so they are able to explain these differences to me.”
“The strength of the relationship between the Army and the local community is not measured when things are going great, it is when it is under strain, from this COVID virus or missteps by individuals, if we can come out of it on the other side knowing it was not because of some official policy we are better. I want Soldiers to know, I am here to support you as your senior commander. But you have to stay within the rules. And if you don’t, you could end up within my court, or the Japanese court, and be held accountable for your actions.
“Enjoy the island there’s a lot to do, enjoy this environment, get around the AOR when travel reopens again, the most cost-prohibitive part of getting here has been taken care of by Uncle Sam, because he moved you to Okinawa. Eventually we will get back to the point where you can move around, you are short flights from so many fascinating places here in the Far East. In the span of a couple of hours, you can be immersed in a completely different culture. This will let you see how the human race in different areas of the world have approached very similar problems. There is a lot to see and appreciate, and it will help you become more a citizen of the world. Which in turn will make you appreciate home that much more.
“It has been a great two years, and I am very glad I came here near the end of my career and not at the beginning. Had I come here earlier, other duty stations would have been a disappointment going forward. I just don’t think I would have found anything close to the experiences, the environment and the people here; if I had come over here as a second lieutenant I would have gone through the rest of my Army career saying ‘Yes, this is nice, but it’s not Okinawa.’”