An airman and two squadrons from Yokota Air Base received two prestigious Japanese awards Saturday during an annual ceremony at Meiji Jingu Shrine in downtown Tokyo.

The Nippon Zenkokai Association, which falls under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s office, honors groups and individuals for outstanding community service and fostering good deeds. Most are Japanese citizens but a handful of others also are among the hundreds of recipients each year.

Staff Sgt. Gerald Morey of Yokota’s 374th Security Forces Squadron was recognized for volunteer work in 2004 and 2005.

He was the Kanto Plain Special Olympics vice director, provided food and donated clothes to homeless Japanese people, was a youth baseball coach, trained Japanese K-9 handlers in explosive identification and prepared customs inspectors to use military dog teams at Narita International Airport, and taught first aid and CPR for the American Red Cross.

“It caught me by surprise,” Morey said of the award. “It’s a real honor to be recognized … but I really don’t look for any reward. … It’s my way of giving back to the community.”

The 730th Air Mobility Squadron was paid tribute for several endeavors, including its widespread charitable donations, work with the Save Our Souls Children’s Village and local Japanese schools, dedication to accident prevention and safe driving, helping the base post office during the Christmas holiday crush and contributions to annual Yokota events such as the Friendship Festival, Frostbite Race and Ekiden Run.

“It is indeed a privilege to be recognized by this tribute, especially here at the Meiji Shrine named in honor of a great emperor well known for social, educational and military reform,” said Col. Stuart Haire, 730th Air Mobility Squadron commander.

“As military guests in this country, the 730th Air Mobility Squadron is deeply grateful for the Zenkokai Association recognizing us in such a significant manner. We look forward to staying actively involved with the community … for years to come.”

Last December, the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron, which also earned a Zenkokai Award on Saturday, launched a monthly effort to scoop up litter along a stretch of outer fence line in nearby Mizuho Town that borders the north end of Yokota’s runway. Coordinating with Japanese officials, airmen brought cans, plastic bottles and paper to the local recycling plant, generating money for the city.

At Christmas time, the unit donated about $2,865 of gifts to 98 children living in two Hachioji City orphanages.

“Helping young Japanese children at the orphanages is a great honor for us,” said Maj. Douglas Dickerson, 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander. “This also gives Americans a chance to learn about the Japanese people, and to respect the culture we’re living alongside.”

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