Hill Airmen support vice president’s visit to Japan

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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Vice President Michael R. Pence addressed nearly two thousand U.S. service members – including Airmen from Hill Air Force Base – and members of the Japan Air Self Defense Force earlier this month.

The vice president’s remarks highlighted U.S. military strength, new capabilities and messages of reassurance to allies Japan and South Korea, and were part of three-day visit to Tokyo where he met with senior Government of Japan officials.

Airmen and F-35s assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base supported the vice president’s visit to Japan. They are currently deployed under the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, which has been in operation since 2004. This long-planned deployment demonstrates the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.

“Yokota Air Base demonstrates in fact and deed that the full range of the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the United States are dedicated to our common defense,” Pence said. “And all across these lands and seas, and skies, America’s matchless strength is on full display.”

The vice president extolled the progress made over the past 70 years in the Indo-Pacific region under the steady hand of American influence, including millions lifted out of poverty and unprecedented achievements in commerce and cooperation. But he was quick to call out those who threaten this record of progress with tyranny and violence.

“North Korea’s tyrants have never been content to merely subjugate their own people,” he said. “They still harbor the dream of conquering their neighbors to the south – and in recent years, North Korea has threatened the United States, Japan, and our allies and partners across the region.”

Pence leavened his criticism of the North Korean regime with words of compassion for its people, who have suffered under the Kim dynasty since the partition of Korea following World War II. He recited a litany of human rights violations and abuses by the regime, including the 100,000 laboring in modern-day gulags, as well as the deprivation suffered by the North Korean people while their rulers prosper.

“In the 1990s alone, more than a million North Koreans perished from starvation,” he said, a reference to the 1994-1998 North Korean famine. “[T]o this day, 70 percent of the entire nation – some 18 million people – need food aid to survive. And tragically, nearly three out of every 10 North Korean children under the age of five [years old] have been physically stunted by malnourishment. They will bear the mark of their regime’s brutality until the day they die.”

Prior to addressing service members, Pence visited the headquarters of U.S. Forces, Japan, where he met with USFJ senior leadership and received a brief on regional security issues from the commander, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry P. Martinez. Martinez, the senior U.S. military officer in Japan, discussed the state of the U.S.- Japan alliance and highlighted the deep cooperation between the two nations in confronting shared threats.

“This week marks the third visit by our president or vice president to Japan in less than a year,” said Martinez. “The vice president’s visit here is yet another demonstration of the United States’ enduring commitment to our allies in the region. It was an honor to host him and have him spend some time with the dedicated men and women who are here defending the U.S. and Japan.”

Following his meeting with the USFJ staff, the vice president toured the USFJ operations center and visited the Japan Air Self Defense Force’s Air Defense Command Headquarters where he learned more about U.S.-Japan bilateral cooperation and coordination for ballistic missile defense. In his discussions with the vice president, Martinez emphasized the strength of the partnership between the U.S. and Japan.

“Our Japanese counterparts are not just our great allies, and not just our great teammates, but they are truly our great friends,” said Martinez. “With them, we are proud to defend Japan.”

Vice President Pence closed his remarks in the hangar with a tribute to the service members gathered around him and recounted his own close military ties to the region – his father, Lieutenant Edward Pence, who fought in the Korean War in 1952.

“In just a few short hours, I will travel to the country that my father fought to defend,” he said, his voice thick for a moment with emotion. “There, I will pay tribute to him and all his brothers-in-arms, so many of whom gave the last full measure of devotion in the cause of freedom… And I will breathe a prayer of thanks for all of you – who follow in their footsteps – and stand sentry in our time.”

(75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.)