US honors Japanese airmen for aid to US counterparts after vehicle accident
Stars and Stripes November 17, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. 5th Air Force decorated a pair of Japanese airmen who helped evacuate two of their American counterparts after a car crash on a remote Pacific island.
Maj. Ken Yamashita and Tech. Sgt. Atushi Oyaizu of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force had key roles in an emergency response to the Feb. 17 accident during COPE North drills on Guam and surrounding islands, according to a Facebook post Wednesday by U.S. Forces Japan.
Each was awarded the Air and Space Commendation Medal during a ceremony Wednesday at the 5th Air Force headquarters at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.
Yamashita was working as a landing zone control officer on Tinian, about 120 miles north of Guam, when the accident required the injured airmen to be immediately evacuated to medical facilities, according to the USFJ post.
The Japanese officer stopped a C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the Yokota-based 36th Airlift Squadron from taking off so that one of the injured airmen could be taken aboard. Then he coordinated for a Japanese UH-60 helicopter to evacuate the second injured airman.
“As the patient was loaded, Major Yamashita coordinated to have the helicopter fly directly to United States Naval Hospital in Guam to expedite care,” USFJ’s post said. “His quick actions and leadership ensured lifesaving support to two Airman.”
The personnel involved executed “real-world aeromedical evacuation,” Yamashita said in a video posted Friday on Facebook by USFJ. “I’m honored to receive a U.S. Air Force commendation medal.”
Oyaizu, also on Tinian that day, helped stabilize the patients, assess their injuries and communicate with an operations center.
“Oyaizu quickly coordinated with other members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force for two litters to safely transfer the Airmen back to the airfield,” USFJ’s post said. “His quick actions and leadership ensured life-saving support to two Airmen.”
Oyaizu provided medical evaluation and care at the accident scene, he said in the USFJ video.
“We loaded the victims on an aircraft,” he said. “I prayed they would recover.”
Fifth Air Force declined to release details about the accident or information about the victims’ conditions.
“Because the incident is currently under investigation, we cannot provide further details,” Capt. Allen Gutierrez, a 5tth Air Force spokesman, said in an email Friday.