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U.S. military partners in disaster relief efforts

Date Posted: 2011-03-24

More than 12,000 U.S. service personnel from all branches of the armed forces are scattered across mainland Japan, participating in ‘Operation Tomodachi’ earthquake and tsunami relief operations.

Okinawa-based Marines and sailors from III Marine Expeditionary Force, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 11 are providing dozens of missions and service, working hand-in-hand with Japan Self Defense Force personnel. More than 5,000 personnel are committed to the operations, including over 4,000 from the USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown. Helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Lift Squadron 262 are flying humanitarian aid supplies, including blankets and fresh water, while conducting aerial surveys along 200 miles of affected coastline. The chopper crews are identifying isolated communities in the area that may be in need of further assistance.

III MEF Humanitarian Assistance Survey Teams have been conducting surveys in the city of Higashimatsushima in Miyagi Prefecture to determine the extent of damage. HAS teams comprised of civil-military operations specialists, medical officers and engineers from both the U.S. and Japan are equipped to assess the structural integrity of bridges, buildings and roads, and recommend courses of action for repair and replacement.

The III MEF and 31st MEU are operating far from any source of radiation, but still are taking precautionary measures to protect service members from any possible low-level contamination. Pilots, crew and aircraft undergo a thorough check upon return from every mission. A six-man forward command element is now in Sendai to coordinate disaster aid planning with officials already on the scene.

Three KC-130J aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, were first to land at just-reopened Sendai Airport, which was buried under tons of water and debris as the March 11th tsunami swept across the airport. The Okinawa-based wing is currently operating from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Other Marines have been transporting dozens of pallets of clothing and food in four CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters from Naval Air Facility Atsugi toYamada Radar Site, north of Sendai. Nearly 1,000 Marines, sailors and civilians from III MEF and Marine Corps Bases Japan are deployed in support of Operation Tomodachi.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet buildup in support of Operation Tomodachi has exceeded 12,750 personnel, along with 140 aircraft and 20 warships. By Tuesday, more than 126 metric tons of aid had already been distributed to the disaster-stricken region. Admiral Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, says the fleet is preparing to open ocean supply routes to the damaged areas, conducting surveys from Aomori Prefecture’s Shimokita peninsula to the Sanriku coast in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

Cooperative efforts with the Japan Self Defense Forces are well under way, with the dock landing ship USS Tortuga transporting 93 SDF vehicles and 273 SDF personnel from Hokkaido to the Aomori Prefecture port of Ominato. The Marine Corps has also been transporting supplies to Yamagata Airport used by a JSDF airborne unit.
(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Leo A. Salinas & Lance Cpl. Ethan Johnson)

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