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From left, Petty Officer 2nd Class Quintron Perry, Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Walrod and Chief Petty Officer Eric Holewinski are three of seven team members from Misawa who will carve a snow sculpture for display at the Sapporo International Snow Festival in February. The U.S. team from Yokota Air Base, Japan, will be competing in the international snow carving competition. The Sapporo snow festival runs from Feb. 5 to 11 on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.

From left, Petty Officer 2nd Class Quintron Perry, Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Walrod and Chief Petty Officer Eric Holewinski are three of seven team members from Misawa who will carve a snow sculpture for display at the Sapporo International Snow Festival in February. The U.S. team from Yokota Air Base, Japan, will be competing in the international snow carving competition. The Sapporo snow festival runs from Feb. 5 to 11 on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY MISAWA, Japan — Like any serious snow carver, Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Walrod is hoping for a blast of cold Siberian air next month in Sapporo.

Walrod knows what havoc rain can wreak on a painstakingly chiseled snow sculpture. “Last year, it rained on us. We had to go back the next day and do some major repairs,” Walrod said.

Walrod is with a team of seven that will represent NAF Misawa and its various commands at next month’s Sapporo Snow Festival.

The Misawa group will be one of two American teams from Japan at Sapporo. The U.S. Snow Sculpture Team, preparing for its 35th year of international competition at Sapporo, is based out of Yokota Air Base.

While the U.S. team will compete against other countries for bragging rights, the Misawa sailors go to Hokkaido’s winter wonderland as an annual trip of good will. It’s NAF Misawa’s 24th year in the festival, a tradition that began with a few sailors venturing north on their own to build snow sculptures, Walrod said.

The sailors will lodge at Camp Sapporo, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force base. No one will judge their sculpture, carved from a 6-by-6-foot block of snow, but plenty will see it, Walrod said.

“School children come by every day asking for autographs, wanting to practice English,” he said. With those curious school children in mind, the sailors this year will carve Totoro, a furry forest spirit of children’s Japanese anime fame.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Quintron Perry, 25, volunteered despite his inexperience with snow. “I’ve never even seen snow up until a couple months ago,” he said. “I’m from Florida. It’s probably a once in a lifetime deal for me.” Chief Petty Officer Eric Holewinski, 40, figured he’d give it a try, having done some snow carving with the Boy Scouts.

Other team members are Senior Chief Richard Villareal, Petty Officer 3rd Class Shane Arrington, Seaman Daniel Delmo and Seaman Apprentice John Defrancisco. None in the group considers himself an artist, but Walrod said the sculpting isn’t as hard as it looks. “You start out with a block of snow and use your imagination to sculpt it.”

The U.S. team from Yokota isn’t short on talent or experience. Dave Russo, the team’s organizer, will mark his 10th trip to Sapporo. New to the team this year is Tony Ting, an Air Force spouse and former captain of his college ice carving club.

Other team members include Senior Master Sgt. John Host, currently on a remote tour in South Korea; Ronald Miyashiro, an oil painting artist and Air Force spouse; and civilians Timothy Byrnes and Tony Hughes. The team will sculpt a back-alley, New Orleans-style jazz piece, Russo said.

Eighteen countries are vying in the international competition.

“We’re hoping to take home first prize this year,” Ting said.

If you're going ...The 59th annual Sapporo Snow Festival runs Feb. 5-11. Opening ceremonies start at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 5. The main festival site is in Odori Park, which stretches from east to west in the center of downtown Sapporo. More information about the festival can be found at: www.snowfes.com/english/place/.

Most hotel rooms in Sapporo are already sold out, according to base travel agents. The NAF Misawa team will create its sculpture along the 9th city block (9 chome) and the U.S. team from Yokota will be along the 11th city block (11 chome). The U.S. team will be carving for four days, starting Feb. 3.

— Jennifer Svan

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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