Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Guiding Japanese Reporters

Today I met with some Japanese reporters that will be in Springfield for a total of like 4 days. They are participants in the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program, which takes important people from many different fields on tours of the US in order to influence their opinions on things. Anyway, from what I understand, this group of three reporters are in the United States to learn about the effects that the military has on the local populace. As you may know, there are several US military bases in Japan. These bases occasionally cause issues with the neighboring residents, including jet aircraft noise complaints all the way up to murder and rape charges. Anyway, I assume that these Japanese are supposed to gather that having US bases isnt so bad, because we have military bases all over the place here and everyone loves them. Maybe they will be able to gather ways to help the American installations and the Japanese people living next door get along.

So the first stop on our list was the State of Illinois Emergency Operations Center. Its main attraction amounts was a new, multimillion dollar war room in which the major government powers in the state would set up base to deal with natural and man made disasters. It is reinforced and can withstand multiple horrible explosions and tornadoes and whatnot. The main war room is usually empty, except when some sort of situation has arisen. Now, though there were several people sitting in its numerous chairs. There was someone in the National Guard chair, and the American Red Cross, amoung several others. Notable empty chairs included the FBI, DHS, and a myriad of other acronyms that I didnt recognize. Aparrently they were still working on the aftermath of the snowstorms that took place a few days ago. On a large screen, several ongoing objectives were listed, such as power outtages and some Guard members sent on a humanitarian mission someplace in Illinois. I was really impressed by the whole setup, I didnt imagine that such a place existed in Springfield(it's right next to the IDOT building on Dirkson by the way). Our guide told us that such places didnt really exist on the state level until 9/11, when all kinds of homeland security funds suddenly became available. Due to the importance of Chicago and the danger of terrorist activity there, Illinois was one of the first to get a nice shiny installation. She went on to boast that officers from several other states had toured to gather ideas for their own underground situation rooms.

From there we went to a cafereria at UIS in order to have lunch with some professors who have expertise in international relations. They asked the reporters all kinds of questions about US/Japanese political issues. I think that both sides learned a bit from eachother. I have been keeping pretty up to date on the topic, so I already knew alot of what was said, but I just kept quiet and drank my orange juice. It was good.

Next we headed to the 183rd Air National Guard base next to the Capitol Airport. Here we got a pretty lengthy and in depth powerpoint given by the Commander of the Base. It covered what the mission of the group was, where they had trained, how much their budget was, what the capacity of the base was in terms of personnel and aircraft, and what some of the patches they wear mean. Pretty much every single thing you might have ever wondered about this base and its inhabitants, and then even quite a few things that you would not have wondered and have no real interest in whatsoever. We were then driven right out onto the runway and treated to view a launch of a couple of F-16s. After we had been instructed on how to use our ear plugs, the jets went roaring past. Afterwards was the tour of a hangar. One plane was being taken apart for maintainence and its pieces were missing all over the place. We got a close look into the cockpit, and had plenty of classic Japanese photo opportunities. Included through the duration were all kinds of questions. One was particularly memorable. Aparently the group had already been to the Pentagon several days earlier, and had learned about some restructuring that was occurring with some bases. They asked if this was going to have any effect on the 183rd. The commander then explained that they were going to lose their airplanes to the changes, and would become a command and support base only. Ouch. They had just spent all kinds of time telling us about their airborne adventures, which they were clearly very proud of, and now this. The reporters were very interested in this, and kept asking about every angle of the issue. I felt bad for the guy.

This is a small video of the jet taking off.

Throughout all of this, a state department interpreter followed us around, translating just about everything anyone said about anything. Im not sure if I would ever want to do anything like that or not..

So by this time I was very tired and had to go home. More tomorrow.

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