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U.S. realigns, pulls back assets from earthquake-tsunami relief

Date Posted: 2011-04-06

As search and rescue efforts transition to recovery operations in the disaster stricken northeastern Japan region, site of the March 11th massive earthquake and tsunami, American military aircraft, vessels and people are being moved back to normal operations in the Pacific region and Okinawa.

Air Force personnel, aircraft and equipment at Kadena Air Base were deployed to mainland Japan only hours after the earthquake struck, supporting everything from restoration of power to ferrying supplies and people. As a more normal tempo is being achieved, and Japan Self Defense Forces and Japanese government agencies are getting a steady stream of volunteers, the military is pulling back. The bulk of assets, including helicopters and people, have returned to Kadena Air Base within the past few days.

The Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier has completed its role in the U.S. military's "Operation Tomodachi" relief mission in Tohoku northeastern Japan areas that were ruined by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, as well. "The Reagan has already departed the Tohoku coast and is moving on to other tasking," a U.S. Pacific Command official told Jiji Press. The nuclear-powered flattop was used as a base to airlift relief supplies to sufferers of the disaster and to assist American soldiers in searching for missing people.

The Pacific Command spokesman says the Chancellorsville missile cruiser and the Preble aegis destroyer have also been released from the relief mission, and are returning to normal patron duties. The USS Essex amphibious assault ship, however, remains on station off the coast of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the three Tohoku prefectures that were hardest hit by the 9.0-magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami, to continue relief goods supply operations.

III Marine Expeditionary Force and 31st Marine Expeditionary Units under command of Major General Mark Brilakis, continue to work relief efforts in mainland Japan. Brilakisí joint task force is based at Yokota Air Base.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, seven ships and 54 aircraft are still undertaking the Tomodachi mission as of Tuesday morning Japan time. U.S. Forces in Japan are now planning to gradually shift from disaster relief to helping Japan cope with the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and rebuild the afflicted areas, according to people familiar with the matter.

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