YCAPS Afloat is a new initiative series through which Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS) directly supports U.S. Navy personal in their efforts to expand their regional knowledge and strategic thinking while deployed. Working through commands’ leadership and/or Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs, YCAPS Afloat provides information and other resources or, when there are sufficient interested personnel, establishes a YCAPS chapter on board specific ships.
The first YCAPS Afloat chapter is onboard the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet Flagship. Its members come from the Blue Ridge crew, the 7th Fleet Staff, and the embarked Marine force. Since Blue Ridge began its 2019 spring patrol, the chapter has been particularly active. It has organized a Japanese-language study club meeting three times a week and a weekly regional studies movie night. Supporting the professional development of Sailors’ during Blue Ridge’s port visits, it has also worked with the MWR program to recommend tours and provide information directly to those interested about the most valuable places to visit for those seeking to enlarge their regional understanding.
On March 15, YCAPS Afloat kicked off its inaugural port visit event in Manila with a discussion round-table featuring four prominent Filipino scholars: Jay Batongbacal, Richard Heydarian, Jose Custodio, and Deo Onda. Noteably, this was also the first YCAPS event to be organized outside of Japan. Eight Sailors attended and the event was developed in partnership with Japan-U.S. Military Program (JUMP). Each of the scholars introduced their areas of expertise before engaging with attendees in a round-table discussion.
Dr. Batongbacal began the discussion with a brief overview of the ongoing encroachment of the PRC into Philippine territorial waters and island formations since the departure of the U.S. military in the early 1990s through to the present day. He touched heavily on the influence that the Duterte presidency has had on growing ties with China, while approaching the relationship with the United States as one that the U.S. should not take for granted. He highlighted, however, that as of late, with sputtering execution of promised infrastructure and development projects from the PRC that the historical relationship with the United States still largely applied despite a perceived shift in Philippine foreign policy.
Mr. Heydarian provided detailed insight into the Duterte administration policy trends and cabinet members and drew many parallels with the Trump administration. The discussion specifically delved into Duterte’s reluctance to aggressively pursue action and pressure the international community to stand with the Philippines regarding the Hague’s ruling on the South China Sea Arbitration case. Instead, Duterte has chosen to placate the PRC with muffled rhetoric on the subject.
Mr. Custodio examined the role of the military in past and current administrations, emphasizing the large role the Philippine Army has had historically with the Navy or Air Force, and the impact this has had on Philippine foreign policy as the Philippines largely looks inward to maintain border integrity from separatists and rebel groups. This has left the Philippines wanting in terms of Naval and Air Force firepower and readiness, something that of late has begun to be addressed due to territorial incursion from the PRC.
Mr. Onda covered and answered questions regarding the condition of state-funded scientific research and institutions in the Philippines today, as well the impact of land reclamation on the destruction of natural fisheries surrounding the Philippines. He provided a unique look into what the PRC demands during so-called “joint research,” where in fact much of the data and research is done and kept by the Chinese exclusively, sometimes with the Philippine government’s blessing if that is seen as politically or economically advantageous to the administration.
The importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance as a critical partnership during a period of increasingly fast-paced maritime competition was stressed at the Second Annual JUMP Dinner in Washington, D.C. on March 16.
Exploring the theme of the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the dinner brought together over 100 JUMP members at the prestigious Army and Navy Club to enjoy the company of others who have served in Japan and hear about the state of the alliance from keynote speaker, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Michael Richardson.
Admiral Richardson detailed an environment of increasing maritime competition in the Asia Pacific region that is also growing in complexity. These challenges, he said, underscore the importance of strong, long-term international partnerships.
“If we want a partner in this with us, side by side, it’s Japan,” he said, emphasizing the U.S. Navy’s long-standing relationship with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. “…Together, we can outpace any threat and maintain stability in the region.”
Admiral Richardson’s talk was followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Admiral Dennis Blair, USN (Ret.), former Director of National Intelligence and Commander of Pacific Command. Admiral Blair and others from the audience posed questions on topics ranging from maritime capabilities in the Pacific and the role of Freedom of Navigation operations to the challenges posed by a nuclear North Korea and Chinese military deployments in the South and East China Sea.
The dinner served as a continuation of the 2016 Annual Dinner discussion, at which keynote speaker General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, also remarked on the importance of maintaining strong allies to approach growing challenges and potential friction points in the Pacific. Click here to read a recap of the first annual dinner.
JUMP Program Director Lieutenant Colonal James Kendall, USMC (Ret.), also spoke at the dinner, highlighting JUMP events held in the past year and the program’s growing network that is reaching cities across the United States from Pensacola, Florida to Seattle, Washington, and many places in between. The past year also saw the JUMP program establish a partnership with the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS), allowing the extension of event offerings into Japan, and in the coming year JUMP plans to host its first event in Hawaii.
Through these events and the annual dinner, JUMP builds relationships and provides opportunities for service members to engage with each other. JUMP is a collaborative effort between Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, the Embassy of Japan in the United States and the National Association of Japan-America Societies.
Membership is free, and members receive invitations to JUMP’s exclusive events around the country. Click here to join!
As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served in Japan, JUMP Program Officer Brian Graf interviewed Commander John Bradford, U.S. Navy, who has been living in Japan on and off since 1998, for a total of about 10 years. Until recently, he served as Regional Cooperation Coordinator for the 7th Fleet at Yokosuka Naval Base. Now, he’s a full-time language student in Tokyo. Bradford additionally is President of the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS), which recently held a JUMP event (view details here).
How did you hear about JUMP? How long have you been a member?
In a way I have been involved with JUMP from the start. I recall a conversation that I had with Ambassador [Ichiro] Fujisaki concerning his vision to start an alumni organization for U.S. military service personnel who had served in Japan. That was around 2009 or early 2010. I was very glad when that group was launched by an assembly of senior officers during a ceremony at the Army-Navy Club. At the time, I observed that it would be best if that top-down organization created opportunity for a more grassroots-style organization that met the needs of more junior veterans. It has been great to see the JUMP leaders step in and cultivate those grassroots foundations. Service in Japan has been a positive experience for hundreds of thousands of service members, and many want to keep building upon, or at least keep a link with, the opportunities and perspectives associated with that experience.
Could you tell us a little about the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS)?
YCAPS exists to help members of the Yokosuka community learn more about the strategic, diplomatic, and legal issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region. We take advantage of Yokosuka City’s unique pool of global expertise and rich maritime heritage to build networks between individuals, promote dialogue, provide world-class educational opportunities, and enable professional mentorship. So far, we’ve hosted seminars led by experts coming from around the world, taken interesting tours of places of strategic interest in and around Yokosuka, and gathered for social networking events. Here are a couple of events that are a great sample of our activities: On November 16, we organized the first YCAPS-JUMP Seminar by hosting a panel of experts who discussed Europe’s role in Asia’s maritime security. On December 3, we’ll have a guided tour of Admiral Togo’s flagship from the Battle of Tsushima, and then go for an end-of-year social lunch of authentic Yokosuka Navy curry. We want to be a place where people have fun helping each other learn and grow.
How can interested people get involved with YCAPS?
Just check out the upcoming events on the YCAPS webpage, RSVP, and turn up to join the fun.
Why would you say the U.S.-Japan alliance is so important?
The alliance is the cornerstone of stability in Asia. This is said so often that the words have become a bit cliché, but it is also absolutely true. This tight partnership between two of the world’s most important nations is what makes the Asia-Pacific the engine of the global economy. The alliance is also key to the United States’ social and financial well-being.
How did you first become involved with Japan?
In 1997 I graduated from Cornell and commissioned into the U.S. Navy. After my initial accession training at the Surface Warfare Officer School in Newport, Rhode Island, I was assigned to USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), which had just joined the Yokosuka waterfront as the second forward-deployed Aegis destroyer. I joined the ship on deployment in the Middle East, and I vividly recall steaming into Yokosuka harbor in the summer of 1998 and seeing my new hometown emerge.
What was the hardest thing to get used to when you first arrived?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I was going through many transitions at the time, leaving college, starting to live on a ship, learning the job of a Naval officer, etc. My life was so full of changes back then, but I was quite happy working through them. I suppose the hardest thing was probably leaving my close-knit crew of college friends, but that would have also been true if I’d been stationed in Norfolk or San Diego.
Tell us about an embarrassing culture shock moment (we all have them).
Around 1998 or 1999, I remember returning to Japan from a vacation in Southeast Asia and eagerly phoning one of my Japanese friends from my cellphone (the Japanese ones were so small compared to those I’d seen in the U.S.!) to talk about my trip. I made that call from my seat on the train and a helpful man came over and pointed out that in Japan this is considered very rude. He suggested that I go to the end of the car to finish the conversation. I was pretty embarrassed at the time, but now it drives me up the wall when I listen to everybody else’s phone conversations and the music from their headphones when I take public transit in the U.S.
Any advice for individuals getting ready to be stationed in Japan?
Just stay flexible, stay optimistic, and stay focused on what you want to achieve professionally and personally while you are here.
Describe one of your favorite memories from Japan.
Wow! How can I choose? Having PCSed (relocated) to Japan three times, my total time in Japan has added up to about 10 professionally rewarding and tremendously fun years. A story I like to tell dates about my tour in Sasebo is when I bought my first sofa. I’d taken a bus out to an area a few miles from my apartment where most of the furniture stores are and walked around between the various shops to see what was available. The last shop I visited was a bit further from the others, so I took a taxi. When I paid, I only had hundred-yen coins and the driver didn’t have many 10-yen coins, so he was 40 yen short on the change he owed me. He was super-apologetic and I told him not to worry about it. I went into that final store, found a sofa I liked, paid for it and arranged shipping. It was a big investment for me at the time, so I figured I definitely needed to walk home rather than spend more money on a bus or taxi. A few minutes into the walk, a taxi pulled up next to me and I turned to shoo it off. I was surprised to see that it was the same driver who had given me the previous ride. He’d been waiting for me and now insisted that he give me a free ride home to compensate for the “poor” service he’d previously shown!
Where do you think the U.S.-Japan Alliance is headed?
I think the alliance is definitely going to get tighter. After more than 50 years of cooperation, we know each other well and how to deepen the relationship. East Asia is becoming a tougher neighborhood, so that alliance-strengthening is needed. At the same time, Japan is looking to be more active in global security, and the U.S. is their global partner of choice.
Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series! Read previous editions of the JUMP Spotlight Series here.
My family and I first went to Japan in 1984, when I commanded a guided missile destroyer newly homeported in Yokosuka. It didn’t take long before the beauty of Japan and the hospitality of the Japanese people captured my admiration and affection. Both of our children returned to Japan later for exchange visits.
Although Japanese people and Americans are different in so many ways, through the years our people have formed unique personal bonds and a sincere appreciation for each other’s countries. That is especially true among service members, government civilians, and their families who have served in Japan.
While I no longer explore the coast of Japan from a ship, I am now happy to be working with JUMP and helping to connect past and present service members and their families with others who have this shared experience. I believe Japan and America have much to offer each other, and JUMP is a powerful tool through which we can continue to build upon the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Admiral Dennis C. Blair, USN (ret.) is a renowned expert on Asia Pacific policy and issues, having served as Director of National Intelligence and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. During his 34-year Navy career, Blair served on guided missile destroyers in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and commanded the Kitty Hawk Battle Group. Ashore, he served as Director of the Joint Staff and held budget and policy positions on the National Security Council and several major Navy staffs. He is the Chairman of the Board at Sasakawa USA, which administers JUMP, and he has participated as a recurring featured guest at JUMP events.
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