ASA Chitose Association Inc
Special Report: The Closing of Chitose

Reprinted from the Newsletter with permission from Bill Reich

By Walt Moran

  I would like to acknowledge the help and input that Col Richard A. McMahon, the last FS Chitose CO, provided to this article.
His thoughts and recollections are at the heart of it and the story could not have been completed without that help. Walt

  As May 1971 arrived, ASA FS Chitose, or 12th USASA FS, was closed out and  all personnel excepting a very few caretaker types were gone. The sad fact  about the closure however, is that it didn't have to happen. ASA Chitose  might well have had several more productive years if NSA had had its preferences met.
  The closure had its origins with a visit to the field station by Admiral  Noel Gayler, Director NSA, sometime in early 1970. During his visit, the  admiral indicated that he was pleased and impressed with FS operations.  However he informed Col McMahon, Chitose CO, that cost savings would need to  be realized in support functions at Chitose and other field sites if NSA was  to continue meeting its worldwide operational responsibilities. He asked the  Colonel if he thought the FS could continue to function at its normal level  if it had to impose a cut of approximately 20% in service and support areas.  Col McMahon told him that he believed such a cut was feasible if it would  keep the FS open.
  After the Admiral departed, Col McMahon passed on the comments to HQ ASAPAC  in Hawaii, and, at the same time, initiated a local survey to determine  what, and how many, slots could be identified and eliminated if needed. The  survey identified over 60 positions whose loss would have little or  no  impact on operations and overall support. Most of them were filled by Japanese civilians. One example of them was that there  were several Post  Engineer slots that provided what amounted to handy men circulating through the housing areas on a daily basis. If anyone had a household problem, down  to and including changing light bulbs on occasion, they only needed to hang a PE sign on the front door and the problem would be promptly looked into and taken care of. It was a very nice thing to have but not a serious  requirement. Once completed, the study results and the list of slots were  forwarded to ASAPAC so they, and Arlington Hall, HQ ASA, would have them if  the need arose. That accomplished, life at Chitose marched on. Some time later, in 1970, message traffic began to flow between NSA at Ft  Meade and HQ ASA at Arlington Hall. NSA wanted to see a reduction in support  personnel and some other small economies at Chitose in order to continue  operations. The Hall position was that no reductions were possible and that,  in fact, some increase in support areas was necessary for operations at the  FS. This position was taken without any conversation with Chitose. The tone  of the messages when the FS finally learned of them, led Col McMahon to
wonder if Arlington Hall had ever received the study results and  recommendations. He was particularly concerned since the study clearly  pointed out that the proposed NSA reduction which was less than 60 slots  would have no impact on FS operations. He retransmitted the study again to  ASAPAC stressing the point that it should easily clear up the matter and any confusion and end any debate in favor of keeping the FS open. Before sending  the retransmit, he had considered including both the Hall and NSA as addressees but did not as ASAPAC had, in the past, warned that "internal  Matters" were not to be aired. He has many times since, wished that he had  done so.
  The re-transmittal did not appear to change anything. The Col then phoned ASAPAC. MG Wolfe was on TDY and he spoke with his deputy Col William Clark,  himself a former Chitose CO. Col Clark informed him that the study had not  been sent on to Arlington Hall and that there was no intention to do so. He said the HQ had taken a "unified stand" against NSA intrusions into ASA  internal affairs. This attitude was taken in spite of the fact that funding for any field station operation came out of the cryptologic budget and its  many sub-elements run by NSA.   Col McMahons own words sum up the situation best. "Looking back, my own personal view is that a turf war was going on between Gayler and Denholm and  Chitose paid the price. Based on my conversations with him, I am convinced Gayler would have left the station open if my proposed reductions had been  offered. If Denholm was using Chitose as a lever, Gayler called his bluff. The rest is history." NSA ordered the FS closed.   Once the decision was in concrete, McMahon and his staff began planning for  an orderly, efficient closure as quickly as possible. There was no further point in fighting a done deal.
  With NSA blessing, negotiations were began with the USAF Security Service  (USAFSS) regarding moving critical elements of Alpha operations to Misawa Air Base as part of a tri-service field station with the Navy Security Group also being on board. 111 billets were decided on as the ASA element and the heart of Alpha division moved there in 1970. As far as I know, they are
still in business as an INSCOM operations element today.  Similarly, negotiations also took place to turn over selected operations to  the Japanese. That included a training program being designed and
implemented for the Japanese personnel selected to man those operations.  Once they were selected and showed up at Chitose, the training was successfully completed and they commenced operations. I imagine that they or rather their replacements are still at it.
  As ASA operations at Alpha and Bravo were phased down, personnel and their dependents were reassigned and moved elsewhere to include those going to Misawa. Support operations were also phased down and closed out or as needed turned over to Japanese personnel.  Support personnel and dependents were also reassigned and moved. Many of them were able find positions elsewhere in Japan. Some American civilians and their families found work at USARJ and other military installations in Japan. Similarly several Japanese civilians at Chitose found jobs on post after the closing. Many others were not so fortunate and were, at least temporarily, unemployed. Chitose area growth would, however, insure that that would not be for long.
  The 25th Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) division began to move on post taking over troop barracks and other buildings and facilities. They are
still there to the best of my knowledge.  Over time, several of the relatively new USA homes would be taken down and moved to provide additional family housing at Misawa AB and elsewhere.  As the drawdown and closure went on, socializing and family activities as far as on post went gradually to become focused around the officers club. It became a community club for any personnel and their families that were left and the scene for any social gathering outside the home. When my family and I left in late spring 1971, the only American activity still operating at Chitose was a small FBIS operation. A small group of them would remain for another year or two. Our last memory of  Chitose as a family, as it would be
for other families leaving, was saying goodbye at the Chitose Airport to our close friend Desiko who had started as our babysitter and maid in 1967 when we arrived. She had become a good friend and theclosest thing to a grandmother our children had up to then and would be missed.At the end of the day, whatever flight of fancy possessed Arlington Hall to insist on no cuts and instead adding slots without ever once getting the opinion of the folks on scene will never be known. Likewise the decision by ASAPAC not to at least forward McMahon's study and recommendations to the Hall will not be known. What is a fact is that Col McMahon and his staff did everything possible to change the outcome and when it became irrevocable, acted quickly and efficiently to effect the closure. ASA would lose a premier field station that could have had several more years of success and instead left a lot of folks with a lot of happy memories of a great place.
On a personal note, Arlington Hall didn't lose any sleep worrying too much about the civilian personnel at Chitose. Wayne Stram and I were pretty much left high and dry as far as the Hall was concerned. Only the persistent efforts of Col McMahon and later MG Wolfe at ASAPAC would result in jobs being found for us at FS Hakata which would itself be closed a year later in 1972. But that's another story.
  Ironically, Colonel McMahon was not only the last commander of Chitose, but also of ASAPAC. A few months after taking over the command, he determined the HQ had no useful function and should be closed. MG George Godding, ASA commander at the time, accepted his recommendation. And, perhaps fittingly, HQ ASA would also become a memory in 1976 when it was absorbed into the
Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).
  I guess what goes around comes around.

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