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U.S. military expands role with Operation Tomodachi

Date Posted: 2011-03-31

The American military is becoming more involved in relief and reconstruction efforts following the devastating March 11th earthquake and tsunami, with more than 12,000 personnel, 20 ships and 140 aircraft supporting Japan’s disaster aftermath.

In Miyagi Prefecture, at the heart of the earthquake on Japan’s central east coast, a prefecture official described the U.S. operations as the largest civil support by U.S. forces since the aftermath of World War II. U.S. troops are involved in everything from safety surveys to direct support to improve the life of survivors and evacuees from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

U.S. ships have been transporting fresh water on a pair of large barges from the Onahama Port to the Fukushima area for use in cooling the damaged nuclear reactors at the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Each barge carries up to 1,000 tons of water.

The Navy, which is aiding the Tohoku recovery efforts, says there’s no concern about radiation on its vessels in the region. Commander Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman, says radiation on vessels is easily scrubbed off with soap and water. “These are extremely low levels. Even if they weren’t, they still wouldn’t rise to the level where they would cause any harm to human health.” Other Navy units are working with Self Defense Forces to clear ports of debris and to help deliver aid.

Marines with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Forward) have been moving equipment and personnel into a community center in East Matsushima, where they’re installing shower facilities for residents waiting for heat and water since the March 11th quake. The units are part of the Joint Forces Land Component Command, headed by Major General Mark A. Brilakis, who’s also commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division based in Okinawa. Brilakis and the JFLCC is operating from Yokota Air Base.

A small contingent of 12 Marines and a lone sailor from Marine Air Control ‘Group 18 and Marine Wing Support Group 17, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa, are now supporting air operations and control alongside the Japan Air Self Defense Force at Matsushima Air Base. They’re coordinating operations involving U.S. military aircraft at Matsushima, which can handle a variety of Japanese C-1 and U.S. KC-130 cargo aircraft, as well as CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters and other military aircraft from all services.

On average, four sorties are being flown daily from the base, with Marines helping offload supplies, which range from food, rice, water and diapers to cots, tents and gas pumps. More than 200,000 pounds of supplies have already been distributed to needy Japanese at Ground Self Defense Force distribution centers.

Other III MEF units have been transporting supplies near the city of Sendai for Operation Field Day, a clean-up project led by the Japan Ground Self Defense Force. The plan is to clear debris in order to increase access to damaged structures so civilian agencies can begin the rebuilding process. The Joint Force Land Component Command says nearly 500 sorties have been flown already in support of the foreign humanitarian assistance mission.

Marines from outside Okinawa and Asia have also joined Operation Tomodachi. Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234 from Fort Worth, Texas, have brought their KC-130T aircraft to support III MEF and the JFLCC. They’re flying from Naval Air Station Atsugi and from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Before returning to the U.S. several days ago, the squadron flew a total of 20 sorties over 44.8 hours, transporting a total of 122,637 pounds of cargo and 208 passengers.

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