Naval Air Facility Atsugi (厚木海軍飛行場 Atsugi Kaigun-hikōjō) (IATA: NJA, ICAO: RJTA) is a naval air base located in the cities of Yamato and Ayase in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. It is the largest United States Navy air base in the Pacific Ocean and houses the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 5, which deploys with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). Service members stationed at Atsugi also work in conjunction with the Kamiseya Naval Radio Receiving Facility.
CVW-5 shares the base with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. NAF Atsugi is also home to Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) 51 (HSL-51), which provides detachments of SH-60B LAMPS Mk III helicopters to forward deployed U.S. Navy guided missile cruisers, guided missile destroyers and frigates homeported at nearby Naval Base Yokosuka.
Despite its name, the base is 4 nautical miles (7.4 km; 4.6 mi) east northeast from the city of Atsugi, and is not adjacent to the city.
Naval Air Facility Atsugi
NAF Atsugi main gate
The Imperial Japanese Navy constructed the base in 1938 to house the Japanese 302 Naval Aviation Corps, one of Japan's most formidable fighter squadrons during World War II. Aircraft based at Atsugi shot down more than 300 American bombers during the firebombings of 1945. After Japan's surrender, many of Atsugi's pilots refused to follow Hirohito's order to lay down their arms, and took to the skies to drop leaflets on Tokyo and Yokohama urging locals to resist the Americans. Eventually, these pilots gave up and left Atsugi.
General Douglas MacArthur arrived at Atsugi on 30 August to accept Japan's surrender. During the occupation, the base housed the overflow from nearby Camp Zama; it was not refurbished to handle military air traffic until the Korean War. The Seabees (Navy construction battalions) came to the base in 1950 and prepared it for re-opening that December as Naval Air Station Atsugi.
NAF Atsugi was a major naval air base during both the Korean War and Vietnam War, serving fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft. One of the aircraft based at Atsugi at least since 1957 was the U-2 spy plane piloted by Gary Powers, which provoked an international incident when it was downed over the Soviet Union.
In 1972, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to share ownership of the base.
Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of John F. Kennedy, was stationed at Atsugi for part of 1957 and 1958 as a Marine radar operator. Elements of the Naval Security Group and rotational squadrons of EP-3 Aries that are now stationed at Misawa Air Base were formerly stationed here until the 1990s.
Atsugi is named after the nearby city of Atsugi despite not actually being in Atsugi (it is separated from Atsugi by two other cities).
The name was chosen because Atsugi was the only large town in the area as of 1950, and the three farming villages surrounding the base at that time—Yamato Village, Ayase Village and Shibuya Village—shared names with better-known areas elsewhere in Japan. Yamato is an alternative name for the Nara region, Ayase is generally associated with the area around Ayase Station in northeast Tokyo, and Shibuya is generally associated with the ward of Shibuya in central Tokyo.
The Jinkanpo Incinerator
NAF Atsugi and the people stationed there gained notoriety in the 1990s (stemming from near-daily reports in the Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper) due to their proximity to the Jinkanpo Atsugi Incinerator, which blew toxic and cancerous emissions over the high-rise buildings in its immediate vicinity. The incinerator's owners, arrested and jailed for charges of tax evasion, neglected the maintenance of the facility. The pollution had become so much of a health problem for residents that if they showed signs of adverse health effects, the base allowed them to leave early (usually servicemembers are stationed at the base for a tour of three years). Many servicemembers reported sickness and a few died from cancer shortly after moving back to the United States. For a time, the base required servicemembers to undergo medical screenings before being stationed at the base in order to ensure that their bodies could handle the poor air quality. In spite of this, servicemembers still developed health problems, such as acute cases of asthma.
In May 2001 the Japanese government purchased the plant for nearly 40 million dollars and shut it down. Dismantling was completed by the end of that year.
Atsugi currently hosts Carrier Air Wing 5, part of aircraft carrier USS George Washington's air component. The wing includes about 70 aircraft and 2,000 military personnel who are stationed at Atsugi when the carrier is in port at Yokosuka. On 9 May 2008 the wing commander, Captain Michael P. McNellis, was relieved of command by Rear Admiral Richard B. Wren, commander of Commander Task Force 70, after the admiral said he lost confidence in the McNellis' ability to command. McNellis was replaced by Captain Michael S. White.
The U.S. Navy conducts nighttime landing practice at NAF Atsugi. Noise from this activity has been a concern of residents of Ayase, Yamato and nearby communities for many years. During the 1990s, the U.S. Navy and the Government of Japan nearly agreed to move nighttime landing practice to another location, but as of 2004, no such move has taken place. Leading candidates were Miyakejima (in the Izu Islands) and Iwo Jima (in the Ogasawara Islands), both run by Tokyo but well separated from the mainland of Honshū. The former plan has been abandoned, volcanic activity had forced the evacuation of Miyakejima.
On November 14, 2009 a fire in Hangar 183 at the base injured three Japanese employees of Obayashi Corporation. The fire was reported at 11:55 a.m. and was extinguished by 12:45 p.m. The hangar was moderately damaged.
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