Fuji Marines, sailors celebrate friendship

By Jennifer H. Svan, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, May 27, 2003

CAMP FUJI, Japan — By 1:30 p.m., one thing was certain: The cake was going fast.

The Marines and sailors here celebrated 50 years of living and working at the base of Mount Fuji with thousands of Japanese residents this weekend.

Thirty minutes after the noon start, more than 1,000 Japanese locals had poured into the camp for the annual friendship festival — this year coinciding with Fuji’s 50th anniversary.

Many headed directly for the tent where Marines offered up free pieces of birthday cake.

Lance Cpl. Kory Bastian, a cake slicer, said there were 3,000 portions to give away. But by 1:30 p.m., the tally through the gate was 2,200, “and we’re still going to be open for six more hours,” said Maj. Gregory Tesch, executive officer of Camp Fuji’s Headquarters Battalion.

But just in case every festival-goer craved cake, “We’re prepared to get more,” Tesch said.

The weekend festival is Camp Fuji’s biggest event of the year, the only time the post is open to the general public.

The camp supports troops deployed to Fuji for live-fire and other combat-readiness training. The 309-acre site was turned over to the U.S. Marines in 1953.

Marines and sailors celebrated that anniversary and host-nation friendship with carnival-like fanfare: Big guns and big trucks were parked for viewing — what the military calls “on static display” — and kids tumbled down a giant slide while a Japanese band belted Beatles tunes in accented English.

Food booths catered to Japanese and American palates, from cheeseburgers and sno-cones to yakisoba and baked, sugarcoated sweet potatoes.

Military police, such as Sgt. Ronald Reilmann, however, didn’t have time to soak up the fun. His mission: “To make sure everyone is safe and having a good time and that the base is protected,” he said, while patrolling the festival grounds Saturday.

“I’m mainly watching for people with big boxes,” he said.

But although security was tight, neither recent world events nor the general, heightened threat of terrorism across the globe soured Fuji’s birthday blast.

“All security personnel assigned to this station are working this event,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Carte, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Fuji’s military police detachment. “We have support from the local police station and local fire department.”

Augmentees also were pulled in to provide extra sets of eyes and ears.

Marine and sailor festival volunteers said they weren’t worried about terrorism at an open-post event.

“People who come on base, I believe they’re friendly,” said Lance Cpl. Ellis Agee Jr., a postal clerk. “I’ve got security watch tonight, so it’s going to be cool.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jazzmin Porter, a hospitalman from Yokosuka Naval Base, said of terrorists: “If they wanted to get us, they would have gotten us already. They don’t need an open post.”

Several hours into the event Saturday, there was only one incident to report.

“A lady,” Carte said, “dropped her keys in the porta-john.