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NEWS | Dec. 31, 2014

Japanese Thank Soldiers for Tsunami, Earthquake Recovery Assistance

By David Vergun U.S. Army

March 11, 2011 is a date Command Sgt. Maj. Ron Joshua, and his wife, Maj. Rachel Joshua will never forget.

They were in central Tokyo on their way to a Strong Bonds marriage retreat, sponsored by an Army chaplain, he said, when suddenly the ground shook violently.

Joshua turned to his wife and said, "Oh my God, what is that?"

Having grown up in Louisiana, Joshua said he's been in hurricanes, but never an earthquake. "Everything just started moving."

The couple had just experienced shockwaves from the 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded to have hit Japan. It also generated a tsunami, which at one point was 133-feet high, according to scientists.

The combination of the two events resulted in collapsed buildings and infrastructures, as well as nearly 16,000 deaths and over 6,100 missing. Three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that were hit by the tsunami suffered meltdowns, with the resultant release of vast quantities of radioactive materials.

After the rescue efforts ended, the massive cleanup started. As command sergeant major of the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Joshua and his Soldiers would be part of that recovery effort.

About 100 Soldiers headed northeast to Sendai International Airport, where they linked up with troops from the other services to form the 35th Logistics Task Force. Upon arrival, they immediately went to work cleaning up the airport, he said. "The devastation was a lot worse than you see in pictures."

The Soldiers had trucks and some forklifts that were used in the cleanup. Many of the Soldiers participated using only their hands to pick up debris, he said. Once the airport was cleaned up, they headed about 45 miles north to Ishinomaki, where they cleaned up 12 schools, two train stations and other places.

During the cleanup, he said, the Soldiers wore Geiger counter to detect levels of radiation such as alpha and beta particles as well as gamma rays. They maintained a safe distance.

Besides picking up debris, the Soldiers also set up portable shower units and delivered drinking water and other relief supplies. In all, they were there assisting for nearly three weeks. "The Japanese all the time kept thanking us," he said.

During this time, Joshua's wife Rachel served as aide-de-camp for U.S. Army Japan, commanding general. She helped with his travel arrangements to affected areas, he said.

About three or four months later, the Soldiers returned to the areas they'd helped clean up and the Japanese hosted an "unbelievably big celebration for us," he said. "It was amazing."

Joshua said he's been to Iraq twice and on other humanitarian missions, and speaking for himself and his Soldiers, he said Operation Tomodachi, "Was a pleasure. It was a blessing we could do this."

Tomodachi means friend in Japanese and it was the name given for the entire American cleanup effort.

Flash forward to the end of 2014.

The Joshuas were surprised to be told that they'd represent the Army in the Rose Parade. The theme of the Jan. 1, 2015, parade will be "Inspiring Stories." The couple, along with Service members representing the other services who served on Operation Tomodachi would be riding on the first float.

Around 50 Japanese high school students who were affected by the disaster will be walking alongside the float, he said, according to plans.

The Joshua couple said it would be an honor representing the Soldiers they'd served with on that memorable humanitarian operation.

Afterwards, the couple will watch the Florida State Seminoles battle the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl. Joshua is rooting for Oregon, he said, because it is close to Washington, where he's now the command sergeant major of the 308th Brigade Support Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Being from Louisiana, he said he wishes his team, the Louisiana State University Tigers were playing.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to witness the parade and game in person or on TV, and the couple is excited to be a part of it.

Joshua said he wishes there were parades every day, but alas, it's not always fun and games in the Army. While leading Soldiers is the high point in his 29-year-career, Joshua also has a lot of god-awful days.

As the Army is in the midst of a drawdown, he said he notifies two or three Soldiers a week that their service is no longer required.

"These are good Soldiers," he said, adding that last week, right around Christmas time, he had to notify four Soldiers. Some of the Soldiers he notifies may have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Operation Tomodachi.

In any case, the Joshua couple will try to have a great time, they said, showcasing what their Soldiers have done to help the Japanese in their time of need. "I loved serving in Japan," he said, noting a fondness for sushi, which the couple enjoy eating.

Something else the command sergeant major learned on his tour in Japan:

"After seeing the effects [of the disaster], I told my wife I never want to live close to an ocean again. I've seen what a tsunami can do."
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