This week marks the anniversary of the date in 1972 when the United States turned Okinawa back to Japan. We did not, however, reduce our military presence in Japan, and today the U.S. operates three air bases, three Army installations (a camp, a post and a base), four naval operations, and five Marine Corps installations there.
The United States has dozens of peacetime military installations around the globe, in addition to the war-footing camps in Afghanistan and Iraq and the peacekeeping operations in places like Kosovo, Kuwait and South Korea. As my nephew Patrick prepares to start basic training for the Air Force, here are international deployment sites that surprised me.
1. Bulgaria. Under a 2006 agreement, U.S. Air Force and Army personnel are stationed at four Bulgarian-American Joint Military Facilities: Bezmer Air Base in Yambol Province, the Novo Selo Range in Sliven Province, the Aitos Logistics Center in Burgas Province, and Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Plovdiv Province. American military personnel will provide training to the Bulgarian forces. The bases belong to Bulgaria, but the Bezmer Air Base is expected to become a major strategic airfield for combat aircraft, should the need arise. The American military presence in Bulgaria is limited by agreement to 2,500 personnel.
2. Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. This base makes the news occasionally, because it's a handy stopping point for rescue missions coming from the other side of the world. It is 695 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and 947 miles from the North Pole. If Santa runs out of reindeer fuel, Thule is probably the closest service station. The U.S. agreed to take responsibility for the security of Greenland even before we entered the Second World War, and has maintained a military presence there ever since. The base at Thule was constructed in strict secrecy from 1951-53, built mainly by Navy SeaBees deployed from Norfolk. At the height of the cold war, the base's population reached about 10,000. Today it's down to about 235, a base for the Air Force Space Command, the 22nd Space Operations Squadron, the 12th Space Warning Squadron, and the 821st Air Base Group.
3. Manas, Kyrgyzstan. The Transit Center at Manas opened in December 2001 as an Air Force base to support personnel and equipment going to and from Afghanistan. In March of this year, NATO moved 50,000 soldiers through the Manas Transit Center. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the People's Republic of China. The center is near Bishkek, the nation's capital, near the northern border with Kazakhstan. It has been controversial, drawing objections from both Russia and China, and requiring the negotiation of a new agreement with the Kyrgyz government last year.
4. Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Camp Lemonnier is a former French Foreign Legion facility that had been used by the Djibouti Armed Forces until the United States made an agreement to use it as the operations center for the new Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in 2002. It is a U.S. Navy Expeditionary Base whose resident detachments include Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force units, a total of about 2,500 military and civilian personnel.
5. Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. As a child, I used to hear my father (a career Naval officer) refer to Diego Garcia as if it were the most remote place on earth. If it's not, it's close. It is a coral atoll 1,000 miles south of India and 1,200 miles northeast of Mauritius. It has been a U.S. Naval support center since 1971, operated jointly with the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. Diego Garcia is the largest atoll in the Chagos archipelago, which the U.K. purchased from Mauritius (a former British dependency) in the mid-1960s. The U.K. made a controversial decision to relocate the island's inhabitants, perhaps as many as 2,000, moving them to Mauritius. The story of the Chagossians is a sad one, still working its way through the British courts. Diego Garcia is one of the five monitoring stations that maintain the Global Positioning System and part of the U.S. Space Surveillance System, as well as serving as a refueling and support station for the Military Sealift Command, several Naval Air units, and Submarine Squadron SIXTEEN. It is the home base for 19 "pre-positioning" support vessels ready to provide supplies, equipment, munitions and medical services to Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force operations. International watchdog groups have accused the U.S. of using its base at Diego Garcia for extraordinary renditions, but the U.K. denies this.