CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers celebrated 75 years of continued work in Japan with a ceremony outside their Okinawa Area Office located on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Feb. 18.
The celebration included a cake cutting, speeches, a live-stream event, and sealing of a time capsule. An engineer’s hard hat, commander’s coin, kokeshi doll with the signatures of Japan Engineer District staff, and a note from current JED Commander, Col. Thomas J. Verell, Jr., were among the many items put inside the capsule. It will remain sealed until the 100th anniversary of the Corps in Japan in 2046.
“This occasion marks 75 years of continuous JED and USACE support to the U.S.-Japan alliance and peace and security of the Indo-Pacific Region,” said Verell. “It’s hard to wrap my head around what 75 years means in terms of the blood, sweat and tears that our cross-service and host nation teams have put forth minute by minute, day after day, year after year to bring us to this monumental milestone.”
USACE’s legacy began in 1944 in conjunction with the Battle of Okinawa, with the Corps setting up shop in Japan’s southernmost island. From 1945 to 1957, engineer work in Japan was carried out by military units such as the 8th Army Engineers, the 5th Air Force Engineers, and the U.S. Army Construction Agency, Japan. This was a time of rebuilding, with engineers creating not only the infrastructure that now makes up modern Okinawa, but Tokyo as well.
With the beginning of the Korean War, the engineer mission underwent a rapid transition from postwar construction to active support of the United Nations’ forces in Korea. The American bases in Japan were vital to the war effort and the pace of construction increased.
On July 15, 1957, the Department of Defense directed that military construction for all services be consolidated under the Corps of Engineers. It was at this time that the headquarters for Japan (then dubbed the Far East District) moved to Camp Zama, with a contingent remaining in Okinawa operating as the Okinawa Engineer District. JED was formally established in 1972 and now OAO stands as the headquarters for all Okinawa construction efforts.
“When I was 17 years old, Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972 and everything started changing little by little,” recalled Tsutomu Nakasone, an OAO project manager with the Project Management Branch. “I saw the district engineers building from bus window and I wondered what this building was and who was working there? It must be an office for high-level U.S. government personnel? And I later learned that this was the district engineer for Army Corps of Engineers. I wanted to work in this building as an engineer if possible in the future.”
Nakasone fulfilled his dream of becoming a USACE team member working for the past 25 years in a building even better than the one he first saw - designed by engineers he now works with side-by-side.
Shortly before dedicating the time capsule, Verell paused, taking in the masked crowd of people before him, “I have to tell my OAO team of engineers, project managers, project engineers and safety personnel -- who are the lifeblood of this area office and the Japan Engineer District -- that I am incredibly proud, humbled, and honored to call you a USACE team member.”
“Without your dedication, we would not be standing here today,” continued Verell. “Celebrating our numerous Japan Engineer District accomplishments. Thank you for helping us Build Strong in the Pacific for 75 Years and Counting!”
Japan Engineer District is headquartered at Camp Zama and operates field offices throughout Japan. The District executes the Japan Host Nation Funded Construction and U.S. MILCON programs as the Department of Defense design and construction agent. The District supports U.S. Forces and other agencies with quality, professional and comprehensive planning, engineering, construction, environmental and other value-added services.