CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The renaming of the headquarters building, a record turnout of interns, and open-post events that saw tens of thousands of attendees were among the stories that impacted U.S. Army Garrison Japan this past year.
Below is a roundup of some of the most notable stories in the community:
Local employees honored for decades of service
More than 180 local employees with 10, 20, 30 and 40 years of service were celebrated for their dedication to U.S. Forces Japan during a ceremony in late October at nearby Zama Harmony Hall.
Maj. Gen. Dave Womack, commander of U.S. Army Japan, said it was an honor to recognize the employees, many of whom are garrison employees, for their collective service that represented thousands of years of commitment.
“There have been many changes in both of our countries, but the one thing that remains consistent is the people,” he said, “so I want to make sure that I thank every single one of you for your incredible service.”
One of the employees, Naoko Koh, the administrative officer at the Directorate of Public Works, said her 40 years of service, which included various personnel-related positions on Camp Zama, seemed to have flown by.
While Koh sometimes thinks about retiring, she still appreciates the sense of purpose her job provides her and how it continues to motivate her to serve others.
“I feel that many people count on me,” she said. “That’s the reason I stayed here.”
Camp Zama personnel proved yet again to be good neighbors while volunteering countless hours to beautify the local community.
The garrison jointly held a four-party event to strengthen community partnerships in late October by helping clean the Sagamihara City Shindo Sports Park.
More than 100 volunteers participated in the cleanup, which was the fourth such event in two years to be organized alongside partners in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and Sagamihara and Zama cities.
In early September, U.S. Army in Japan personnel also joined about 1,300 volunteers for the annual Sagami River cleanup. The massive effort gathered 3.5 tons of trash from the area near Camp Zama.
About a month later, volunteers helped sow canola seeds in the fields near the Sagami River, where sunflowers will be planted next year for Zama City’s annual sunflower festival held in late summer.
The rotational canola crops prepare the fields for the sunflowers and will bloom next spring in conjunction with the cherry blossoms, making for a colorful spring.
Internship program sees record year
An unprecedented 34 students from 26 universities throughout Japan joined the garrison’s monthlong summer internship program — the most participation since it began in 2013.
There were so many applicants, in fact, that an interview process had to be held to determine who would be chosen for the program’s limited slots.
Organized by the USAG Japan Public Affairs, the program was developed to give Japanese college students the chance to gain professional experience in a joint work environment while developing their English-language skills.
Using experience gleaned from their time in the program, some former interns have also recently landed positions at DPW, USARJ’s G-4 Transportation Division and U.S. Army Medical Activity–Japan.
Headquarters building renamed after former commander
The USAG Japan headquarters building was officially renamed in early April as a tribute to a former commander.
The building, commonly referred to as Building 102 or the garrison building for the past 70 years, is now named the Col. David B. Hannum Jr. Garrison Headquarters Building.
Hannum, who died in 2010, served as garrison commander from 1975 to 1976 when it was called USAG Honshu, and went on to help others through volunteering following his 31-year Army career.
Members of Hannum’s family watched the ceremony virtually as Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson, then-garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. David A. Rio, the garrison’s senior enlisted leader, unveiled a plaque in memory of Hannum inside the foyer of the headquarters building.
Garrison welcomes new commander
The garrison community welcomed Col. Marcus Hunter as its new commander while bidding farewell to Tomlinson during a change-of-command ceremony in early July.
In the ceremony, Hunter, who previously served as commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, said he was a temporary tenant at Camp Zama last year while on a six-month deployment with his unit.
He said his visit turned into an opportunity for a “site survey” that provided him a closer look at the work and accomplishments of the garrison.
“It gave me an appreciation for this incredible team and the breadth of the missions with which this team is charged,” he said.
Hunter then said he was grateful for the privilege to join the garrison team and to help carry out its missions.
“We share the Japanese values and ideals of a free and open Pacific,” he said, “and I look forward to the many ways in which we will cultivate relationships of trust, respect and true friendship.”
USAG Japan held several open-post events to bring tens of thousands of visitors onto its installations.
Throughout the year, these large events had every garrison directorate involved to handle numerous moving pieces, including close coordination with Japanese partners.
In April, the first Hawaiian Festival since the pandemic took place at Sagami General Depot, drawing more than 15,000 attendees who enjoyed live music, dance performances and children’s games.
Camp Zama then hosted an Independence Day celebration for more than 14,000 guests, capping the night off with a fireworks display. A month later, about 20,000 people attended the Bon Odori festival here as many wore traditional “yukatas” and performed folk dances before watching more fireworks.
The Yokohama North Dock Running Festival also returned for the first time in four years in early November as nearly 1,000 runners competed in its 5K, 10K and half-marathon races.
Leaders focus on quality housing
Garrison leadership continued to share housing updates and answer questions from residents during town halls this year.
In the latest meeting in September, leaders revealed the tenant satisfaction rating stood at about 87% in fiscal 2023, similar to the previous year’s rating in which USAG Japan ranked fifth out of 23 garrisons with family housing owned or leased by the Army.
Hunter admitted that while the housing here can be considered old, it is still in very good condition.
He said that during a recent visit from a top Department of Defense housing official, who toured some of the garrison’s oldest and least-renovated homes and barracks, she was still impressed with the state of housing here.
The colonel said that DPW does a great job in maintaining homes but acknowledged that more can be done to enhance the living conditions.
Hunter also spoke on the possibility of having pets inside the two high-rise apartment-style complexes on Camp Zama after receiving feedback from the community.
The Housing Office is now looking to form a committee to gather resident input on a new pet policy, slated to be published in the spring, that may help ease the transition for incoming pet owners.
Sports clinic strengthens partnership
About 150 American and Japanese children participated in a football and cheerleading clinic at Sagamihara Family Housing Area in early November to enhance their cultural understanding.
The clinic marked the first event jointly hosted by USAG Japan and Zama Junior Chamber International.
Children from first through sixth grades at Arnn Elementary School and local Japanese schools were invited to the event, which had professional football players from the Ebina Minerva run drills for the children.
The garrison also bolstered partnerships with other JCI chapters in the surrounding communities by hosting a mission brief and installation tour of Camp Zama in late August.
More than 30 members from eight chapters saw various historical sites and installation facilities, and also met with the garrison commander during their visit.
The purpose of the visit was not only to strengthen existing relationships, but also to establish new ones with other chapters while communicating the role and importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance.