U.S. Military Pours Supplies, Equipment, Skills into Japan Relief

U.S. sailors and Marines aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan load humanitarian assistance supplies to support Operation Tomodachi. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch
U.S. sailors and Marines aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan load humanitarian assistance supplies to support Operation Tomodachi. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer

Washington — More than 18,000 U.S. military personnel have delivered 240 tons of supplies to quake-stricken Japan, with 19 ships and more than 130 aircraft participating in an operation they’re calling Tomodachi, the Japanese word for “friend.”

The supplies come in the form of food and fuel, drinking water, hygiene supplies and another 500,000 gallons of fresh water to pour on the overheating nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Navy divers are clearing cluttered harbors for navigation. Pilots are delivering aid and personnel, flying over a ravaged landscape of collapsed bridges and blocked roads damaged in the March 11 earthquake and the punishing tsunami that followed.

Video footage like none ever seen before showed walls of water pounding ashore, tossing boats and vehicles like bathtub toys, crushing buildings and crumbling infrastructure. When the water receded, much of that debris was sucked back out into the ocean, and U.S. naval personnel joined Japanese counterparts to begin clearing channels out of Hachinohe on the northeast coast of Honshu Island.

The teams mapped the waters to establish routes for boats to operate safely through the channel. Using sonar identification, dive teams recovered foreign objects that were potentially blocking safe passage through the channel.

“Over 4 million square meters of harbor have been sonared,” said Chief Petty Officer Jon Klukas. “We have also pulled about five tons of wreckage, consisting of various items like cars, large [shipping containers] and diesel generators.” Klukas was quoted in a story published by the U.S. Pacific Command.

Navy teams worked with the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) for three days at Hachinohe starting March 25, according to a U.S. Embassy press release, and will be moving on to clear other damaged ports in this maritime nation: Miyako, Kamaishi, Ofunato and Sendai.

Admiral Robert F. Willard, commander of the Pacific Command, said soon after the military’s role in the relief operation began that the U.S. Navy is in Operation Tomodachi “for the long haul.”

A U.S. military ship prepares to transport a water pump to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where hundreds of tons of radioactive water must be removed.

HIGH-LEVEL COMMUNICATION

As U.S. and Japanese military personnel work side by side in the relief effort, their national leaders are also keeping the lines of communication open. President Obama spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the evening of March 29 in their third telephone conversation since the disaster struck. The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of close U.S.-Japanese cooperation in dealing with the ongoing nuclear emergency. President Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for recovery efforts, for which the prime minister expressed his gratitude.

On March 30 the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, met with Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki at the U.S. Embassy. Tanigaki requested the meeting, and the two spoke of the situation facing the country, including the U.S. involvement in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The ambassador expressed his gratitude for the close cooperation between U.S. and Japanese experts in the fields of health, safety and nuclear issues and reiterated that the United States will continue to stand by its friend and ally as Japan recovers from the earthquake and its aftermath.

SOLDIER TO SOLDIER

The victims of the disaster, the rescue volunteers, and the U.S. and Japanese military personnel are performing jobs not for the fainthearted. Sifting through the rubble of an epic catastrophe must be an extremely difficult job. But these military crews undertake this work with one more handicap: They don’t speak the same language. Coordination of efforts must be channeled through trained translators who jump the language barrier to deliver instructions on the other side. JSDF Captain Masanori Ide is one of those liaison officers; he has come to appreciate the friendship of the two countries on a personal level.

“I am moved that all the people I am working with here are dedicating themselves to helping out not because they were ordered to, but because they care as friends,” Ide said. He is quoted in a story filed from the Pacific by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Juan Manuel Pinalez.

Pinalez reports similar remarks from the Americans contributing to the effort.

“It’s been a great honor and privilege to serve side by side with our Japanese partners,” said Lieutenant Colonel William Arick of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “Our liaison officer partners’ enthusiasm, work ethic and dedication to help their country is a testament to the Japanese military and people and is humbling to witness.”