CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- As Tomomi Watari stood silently for six minutes outside the U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Japan headquarters here March 11, she thought about her mother’s cousin, who was swept away in a tsunami after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan 10 years ago.
Her thoughts didn’t stop there, however. She also thought about all those who have passed away in natural disasters in general.
“I was just trying to pray for everyone,” said Watari, an accountant for the garrison’s Financial Systems and Programs division.
Watari stood socially distanced in a group of her colleagues who participated in the observance at the encouragement of Col. Thomas Matelski, commander of USAG Japan. Employees from throughout the building gathered outside at 2:46 p.m., the moment the earthquake struck in 2011, to commemorate how the lives of many changed in the span of six minutes. Nearly 20,000 died as a result of the quake.
“Words cannot adequately capture those moments of fear, pain, and then anguish that many families felt that day,” Matelski wrote in an email to employees announcing the observance. “These families are still suffering today from the tremendous loss of life and impacts to everyday life ever since. Many areas of the Tohoku region are still recovering, 10 years later.”
Matelski also asked employees to remember those who contributed to the recovery efforts during the U.S. military’s Operation Tomodachi. “Tomodachi” means “friend” in Japanese.
“At one of Japan’s greatest moments of suffering, members of the United States military team in Japan stood side by side with our Japanese allies and began that great task of recovery,” Matelski said. “Operation Tomodachi is more than a recovery effort between two great friends. Operation Tomodachi is a physical demonstration of the enduring commitment between our two great nations and our people united in a common cause.”
Matelski, with USAG Japan Command Sgt. Maj. Justin Turner on one side, and Steve Niederriter, the deputy garrison commander, on the other, stood in front of the garrison headquarters during the commemoration.
Scot Freeman, the garrison’s emergency management officer, also participated, standing silently by himself in a physical training field behind garrison headquarters.
“The line of work I do is preparation for hazards of that nature, not necessarily of that magnitude, and it’s the right thing to do, to remember those who lost their lives in just a matter of a few short minutes,” Freeman said.
Freeman said he was working in the emergency operations center at U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland when the earthquake struck, but still remembers the scenes that came over the center’s TV screens following the earthquake.
Likewise, Louis Sabia, interim director of the Logistics Readiness Center – Honshu, said he was working in Hawaii 10 years ago, but will never forget the scenes of devastation from Japan.
“Being in Hawaii and always knowing that a tsunami could come to Hawaii, we had tsunami drills there, but watching what happened in Japan … unfathomable,” Sabia said.
In his email, Matelski noted the recent 7.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan’s Fukushima area Feb. 13, resulting in a magnitude 4.0 earthquake in the Camp Zama area. Scientists consider it an aftershock of the 2011 earthquake, he said.
Freeman said now is a good time to remind people to prepare for earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The Army’s Ready Army program provides an important framework for disaster preparation, Freeman said. The program’s four pillars are: Be Informed, Make a Plan, Build a Kit and Get Involved.
To become informed, Freeman recommended visiting the Ready Army site at https://ready.army.mil, which can help community members build a comprehensive emergency kit, Freeman said.
Kits should include nonperishable food, and at least an amount of food that is going to last three meals a day, per person, for three days, Freeman said. In terms of water, the rule of thumb is one gallon per person, per day. The Ready Army website provides other details.
Those who have a kit should review the contents periodically, and those who do not have one should create one, Freeman said.
Watari said she reviews the contents of her emergency kit every year so she and her family are prepared in case of a natural disaster.
Reviewing the kit’s contents can bring up feelings of fear, Watari said, but she feels it is important.
Likewise, Watari said the 3/11 earthquake is a painful memory for her, but she is glad Matelski organized the commemoration.
“It’s been 10 years, and it was a good opportunity [to reflect on the event],” Watari said.