Originally posted at The Bay Citizen, Sept 29, 2010.

USS Makin Island. Creative Commons photo.

USS Makin Island. Creative Commons photo.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a long association with the armed forces. The Bay Area has hosted the military — or rather someone’s military — in war and peace for more than two hundred years. From the founding of the Spanish fort at the Presidio in 1776 to the dotting of the Bay Area landscape with missile silos during the Cold War, the San Francisco Bay Area has seen a continuous military presence for more than two hundred years.

All that is changing. As someone born and raised in San Francisco, I’ve watched as one by one, military bases throughout the Bay Area have closed. The Presidio Army Base, Alameda Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, Fort Mason, Fort Funston, and most recently the Oakland Army Base have all closed down and the overall military presence has been sharply curtailed. It is, as many know, exceptionally rare to see a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman on the streets of San Francisco. The U.S. military sustained more than two thousand deaths in the Iraq war before the first soldier from the Bay Area was killed. The Bay Area and the military are drifting apart, and if the trend continues both will be poorer for it.

Next week is Fleet Week 2010, the annual visit by the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps to San Francisco. Begun in the 1980s by then-mayor Dianne Feinstein, Fleet Week is a week of liberty and freedom or tours and exhibits, depending on which side of the ship’s rail you stand on. And with the mass downsizing of the military presence here, it’s a good way to remind the people of the Bay Area that the military is still out there. And vice-versa.

A week from tomorrow I’ll be taking a helicopter out to the USS Makin Island for a one-day embed. An amphibious assault ship crewed by the U.S. Navy to carry U.S. Marines afloat, Makin Island is the Navy’s first hybrid-powered vessel and the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy’s contribution to Fleet Week 2010. A versatile ship, Makin Island can do anything from launch air strikes to conduct disaster relief missions.

I’ll be blogging about my visit to the ship, as well as other ships and a variety of Fleet Week events and activities. In particular, I’ll blog about disaster relief education and training efforts the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will be conducting during Fleet Week. If you think of war as one big disaster, then the U.S. military is uniquely qualified to respond to disasters. The U.S. military spearheaded relief efforts after the Haitian earthquake, and currently helicopters from the USS Kearsage, sister ship of the Makin Island, are flying missions to assist victims of Pakistan’s recent flooding.

The disaster relief planning and coordination that will take place will some day be crucial to providing aid to those living in the Bay Area after the next major earthquake. Those that lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake will recall the U.S. military played a key role in supplying emergency services, electricity, housing, and transportation in the hours and days immediately after the quake. Another big earthquake is an eventuality, not a possibility, and so will be our need for help from the armed services.

Beyond Fleet Week I’ll be seeking out stories involving national security and the Bay Area. What kind of economic impact could the Bay Area feel if, for example, a major crisis erupted between the United States and China? Could someone slip a bomb through the Port of Oakland? All good questions, and I plan on addressing them. I’ll also visit with local National Guard and Reserve units, and I’ll occasionally delve into the local military history. It may not seem like national security and the Bay Area have much in common, but if you look for it, there’s a great deal there.

I look forward to writing for my readers and I look forward to feedback. Check back next week for the first of my posts from the USS Makin Island and Fleet Week 2010!

Kyle Mizokami is writer and editor of the blog Japan Security Watch, a blog devoted to Japanese national security issues. Kyle is also a writer and editor at the defense & conflict blog War Is Boring. Kyle recently co-founded the New Pacific Institute, a think tank devoted to Pacific Rim security issues. A San Francisco native, it would probably take a war to make Kyle leave the city, but he thinks he would be content to live in the rubble so long as they can keep the It’s Its coming.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 147 post(s) on New Pacific Institute