'Ode to Joy'

'Ode to Joy'

June 2, 2011

Marines live, operate on vital training island

A KC130-J Super Hercules aircraft lands during a training exercise on Ie Shima training facility, managed by a small detachment of Marines. The facility is used for training evolutions such as AV-8B Harrier aircraft takeoff and landing exercises and human and cargo parachute drop training. (Photo by Cpl. Justin Wheeler)
By Cpl. Justin R. Wheeler, Marine Corps Bases Japan 

IE SHIMA, Okinawa, Japan  — A large volcano-shaped rock pierces the sky; small patches of land below it cover the horizon -- no building stands higher than a few stories. Tucked a few miles beyond the port exists an open patch of land, a few buildings speckle its surface. It resembles a home on a farm -- open and expansive. A tight-knit squad of Marines inhabit this patch. To them, Ie Shima is more than their work environment, it is their home.

The U.S. military’s first operation on Ie Shima dates back to World War II.

A large element of American troops hit the beaches of Ie Shima April 16, 1945. There was light enemy resistance on the beach, similar to the landing onto the main island of Okinawa, said Mark Waycaster, a tour guide with Marine Corps Community Services.

After the island was seized, Ie Shima became the largest airfield in the Okinawa prefecture occupied by American military forces. The airfield was used fielding flights for close air support and blocking attacks originating from mainland Japan. The famous combat correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper at Ie Shima.

After the war, the Marine Corps operated on one-third of the island. Throughout the years, it has been used to conduct training exercises, such as AV-8B Harrier aircraft takeoff and landing exercises and human and cargo parachute drop training. Today, the facility primarily consists of the northwest part of the island, with much of the facility’s land occupied by local community members who farm, said 1st Lt. Daniel Farfan, officer-in-charge of the Ie Shima training facility, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.

Aside from the training facility, Ie Shima is a well-known tourist attraction on Okinawa. Many tourists go to Ie Shima by ferry to attend the Ie Shima Lily Festival, Pyle’s memorial and many other sites and events.
All operations at the training facility are managed by a few Marines at a small compound. They sleep, eat, work and exercise there.

Like many Marine Corps units, they wake, conduct physical training and prepare for work. On the day of an operation, the Marines are given a briefing in the morning and then conduct the operation. A typical work day usually lasts until 5 p.m., but some days training can last for hours on end.

After being assigned to the training facility, most Marines spend a six-month tour in Ie Shima. However, the officer-in-charge and staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge man the post for a year. The Marines who operate the facility are few in number but cover a whole spectrum of tasks. 

Sgt. Nathan Esplin, the chief range warden, Ie Shima training facility, oversees the overall range safety of the facility and ensures that units complete their training efficiently and on time. Prior to coming to Ie Shima, Esplin operated as a field wireman with 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, on Camp Schwab.

“This job is a really good experience for me,” said Esplin. “I was looking to challenge myself each day and Ie Shima training facility really gave me that challenge.”

After a long day, the Marines commence liberty on the island.

“It’s a little bit quieter than your typical military base,” said Lance Cpl. David Burkett, crew chief, crash fire rescue, Ie Shima training facility. “It’s peaceful, there are a lot less people.”

On weekends, some of the Marines return to mainland Okinawa, restocking on goods found in the commissary or visiting friends, he said.

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