YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Primed and ready for potential calls to action, Yokota Airmen integrated with Japanese Self-Defense Forces to support Japan’s joint bilateral disaster relief exercise, dubbed the “Tomodachi Rescue Exercise,” on Feb. 21 to 23.
Tomodachi means “friend” in Japanese, and our commitment to that friendship is what kindled Yokota’s assistance in the effort.
Located on the most active earthquake belt in the world, Japan is prone to tsunami-triggering earthquakes like the magnitude-9.0 quake of 2011, which was one of the most severe natural disasters in Japan’s history.
The ensuing tsunami caused such devastation it required an international humanitarian response, thus sparking Operation Tomodachi. Its initiation marked the beginning of a month-long U.S. armed forces disaster relief mission and Yokota functioned as the hub for all air operations.
To remain poised for swift future response, the Japan Self-Defense Force conducts an annual simulated response training and this year, Yokota was a key player in the bilateral effort.
“That’s part of what the C-130 does,” said Capt. Jason LaPre, 36th Airlift Wing C-130J pilot and deputy mission commander for this exercise. “We have space in the back of this airplane where we can bring materials to any place at any time”
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members trucked 20,000 pounds of meals, ready to eat to a combat mobility flight hangar here on Feb. 21. Yokota Airmen rapidly integrated with JGSDF personnel, overcoming a language barrier through a translator and shared task execution procedures.
“The part of the mission we were a part of took just a matter of hours,” LaPre said. “We participate in these types of humanitarian exercises pretty frequently. It helps the pilots understand the necessary timeline and it allows our loadmasters to practice different pallet configurations.”
In addition to familiarization with the process, our team needs to exercise our partnership with the Japanese and fortify our relationship, LaPre said.
“We need to learn how to integrate with one another,” said Staff Sgt. Marcus Wright, 36th AS loadmaster and exercise coordinator. “In times of natural disasters, just like in 2011, we can be there with support and proper training.”
A small dedicated crew delivered the supplies to Japanese Forces in Komaki on Feb. 22 with a rainy welcome and managed to help off-load supplies in under an hour.
“At any time there could be a natural disaster where Japan or any other Pacific nation needs our help and we are prepared to take on a real-world operation,” Wright said. “We do this every day.”