The Osprey is a savior to the residents of outer islands
CHICHI JIMA, Japan -- In July 2013, my six-year old son became seriously ill with acute lymphadenitis and he had to be medically evacuated by the Japan Self-Defense Force to a hospital in Tokyo on Honshu 1000km away. Because it was near sunset when he fell ill, a US-2 sea plane could not be dispatched to our community on Chichi Jima. Instead, my son was taken by an Iwoto-based UH-60J helicopter to Iwoto, 270km to our south, and then flown by plane to Tokyo, more than 1200km away the next morning. All in all, the medical evacuation took eleven hours. I was a nervous wreck the whole time worrying about him.
The only links from the mainland to Chichi Jima and Haha Jima, both of which are inhabited, is a ship that takes 25 hours one way and comes just once a week. Therefore, in the case of medical emergencies, the SDF takes patients to the mainland by plane. There are between 30-40 medical emergencies a year on our two islands and it takes an average ten hours for each journey. There are those residents who have died because they could not get medical help in time. The earnest wish of the islands’ residents is to shorten the time necessary for emergency transport as much as technologically and operationally possible.
Previously, islanders asked the question, “Is the Osprey suitable for emergency transport?” The MV-22 Osprey is a substitute for a helicopter. If the Osprey is used instead of traditional rescue helicopters, there will be a great saving in time during medical evacuations. Rescue helicopters cannot fly over-sea for 1000km, but the Osprey can do it. Furthermore, an air-sea rescue flying boat cannot take off or land at night, but the Osprey can. For an isolated island without an airport like Chichi Jima and Haha Jima, the Osprey is a savior. Because of biased media reporting by a few outlets about the aircraft’s safety record, however, there has been a great misunderstanding throughout the country about MV-22. As a result, it has been politically difficult to publicly talk about the utility of the Osprey.
It was amid this situation of misperceptions that my son was medically evacuated by traditional means. As someone who experienced this emergency, I came to feel even more strongly that when someone’s life is at stake, it is important to make any and all efforts to save that person and to put the patient and her or his family at ease as much as possible. I decided that I would try to find a way to reduce the time necessary for medical evacuations by learning more about the MV-22, no matter what criticism I faced. I contacted Dr. Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7 (Government and External Affairs), Marine Corps Installations Pacific, who is also a well-known historian of the Ogasawara Islands, and in December 2013, fellow Ogasawara Village Assembly Vice Speaker, Mitsuru Namazue and I traveled to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to look at the MV-22. While there, we also participated in the Fence Clean Project, not only speaking with local residents of Ginowan City and Okinawa Prefecture, but also being encouraged by them in our efforts to learn more about the capabilities of the aircraft. With this support, and a greater appreciation of the safety record and the utility of the MV-22, my confidence in our beliefs and in addressing the work ahead was further strengthened.
After visiting Futenma, Mr. Namazue and I sought to have our Ogasawara Village Assembly pass a resolution addressed to the Japan Ministry of Defense that would symbolize the islanders’ correct understanding about the safety and utility of the MV-22 and be an expression of our desire to have the Osprey utilized for medical emergencies and natural disasters. Using social media sites, including my blog and Facebook, as well as talking directly with my neighbors on Chichi Jima, we explained the true information about the Osprey to our fellow islanders and the concerned medical staff from the local clinic. Subsequently, in March 2014, our local assembly passed a resolution in support of the Osprey, the first one in Japan.
In May, all of the members of the assembly had the opportunity to personally present our resolution to Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera and request that a test flight be done out to Chichi Jima. In July, Minister Onodera traveled to Chichi Jima aboard the same MV-22 aircraft with III Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General, Lieutenant General John Wissler, who provided much assistance to make this mission possible. Minister Onodera’s personally flying on the Osprey went a long way to dispelling much of the misperceptions about the aircraft. Ogasawara Mayor Kazuo Morishita stated after the test flight that “seeing is believing. The arrival of the Osprey was invaluable to an island such as ours, without an airfield.” Afterwards, the Defense Minister expressed his interest in using V-22s to support medical evacuations from the Ogasawara Islands when the SDF introduces the Ospreys into their units.
Fortunately, my son was able to receive the proper medical attention following his emergency evacuation and is healthy today. I began my activities to invite the Osprey to our island as a result of our experience with my son’s emergency. This experience is widely shared by people on our remote island. We were able to introduce a practical vision to the defense minister in part thanks to the fact that the United States Marine Corps and members of the Fence Clean Project listened to our strong desires as an island community, gave us helpful advice, and provided us with strong moral support. I wish to express my deep gratitude here to both of those organizations.
Dr. Ichiki was born in 1971 in Chiba Prefecture, moving to Chichi Jima in 2001. He received his doctorate in fishery studies from Hokkaido University. As a member of the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, he was in charge of the promotion of ecotourism and establishing the islands as a World Natural Heritage Site. In 2007, he was first elected to the Ogasawara Village Assembly. He is currently in his second term. He has served as the chairman of the assembly affairs committee, the vice chairman of the air routes special committee, and is now chairman of the special committee on Iwoto.