Obama singles out Osprey pilot who flew missions after Japan quake
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 28, 2016
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — President Barack Obama singled out an MV-22 Osprey pilot who flew relief missions after Japan’s recent earthquake for symbolizing the Marines’ contributions to a host country and the reconciliation and friendship that two former enemies can nourish.
Also, a Japanese family is so thankful for the pilot’s efforts that they’re ensuring her name will resonate for another generation.
Obama made a quick stop Friday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni after attending the G-7 summit and before making a historic visit to Hiroshima. After stepping off Air Force One, he spoke briefly in a hangar to a large crowd of U.S. and Japanese servicemembers, civilian defense workers and family members.
The president praised Capt. Tessa Snow, 27, of Brockport, N.Y., an Osprey pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, for her work flying aid to Japan’s Kumamoto region last month after it was hit by a series of strong earthquakes that killed dozens of people and damaged thousands of homes.
"One Japanese family was so worried about their house collapsing that they spent several nights outside," Obama told the Marines. "Thanks to your efforts, that family and so many others received food, water and other supplies that they needed."
The family is expecting a new baby daughter in June, he said.
"They decided to name their baby after Tessa. They want their daughter to grow up with the same qualities that Tessa has — honor, courage and commitment and willingness to help others. Aren’t those the core values of the Marines Corps?" Obama asked to loud cheers from the audience.
The subsequent Hiroshima visit, he said, honors the memory of all those who were lost during World War II and reaffirms America’s commitment to peace and security and a world where nuclear weapons will no longer be necessary.
"Even the most painful divisions can be bridged," he said. "Former adversaries can … not just become partners but become the best of friends and the strongest of allies. This base is a powerful example of the trust, cooperation and friendship between the United States and Japan."
Obama talked about the U.S. and Japanese militaries working side by side to engage partners in the region and respond to natural disasters in Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
"Together, we have saved countless lives across this region and around the world," he said.
The president finished by shaking hands with many in the crowd — no selfies, please, he said with a smile — before heading to Hiroshima and a date with history.
Afterward, Snow said the presidential shoutout was an honor.
"I’m just happy to represent my squadron," she said.
Snow and her crew flew thousands of pounds of supplies to Kumamoto Airport and a nearby sports stadium. From the air, she could see the devastation that the earthquake wrought — massive landslides and blocked roads, she said.
News that a Japanese baby would be named "Tessa" in her honor made her happy to have inspired somebody, said Snow, who joined the Marines five years ago to make a difference and to serve her country.
"I appreciate the team mentality and tightknit aspect of the corps," she added.
Obama’s visit was a great way to motivate the Marines in Japan and to raise awareness of their mission, she said.
"The president visiting us after Vietnam shows how important the Pacific is," she said.
His decision to visit Hiroshima was "amazing," she added.
"It’s an exciting moment of the country. It shows how far we have come and how close we are working together," she said.
Other Marines who saw Obama were just as excited.
Cpl. Andrew Blanco, 23, of Houston, a supply Marine with Marine Aircraft Group 12, said the president’s visit made the Marines feel like ambassadors for the U.S.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Davis, 19, of Columbia, S.C., who helps manage equipment for F/A-18 jets at Iwakuni, said it’s good that the president shone a light on the Marines’ disaster relief efforts.
Marines at Iwakuni do a lot of volunteer work, he said, adding that he’s helped clean up local beaches and visited a children’s home near the base.
"I like it when people see the good things we do rather than the negative things," he said, referring to recent reports of crime involving U.S. personnel on Okinawa.
Capt. Tessa Snow, an Osprey pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 in Iwakuni, Japan, was praised by President Barack Obama Friday, May 27, 2016. Snow's missions during earthquake relief efforts in Kumamoto last month prompted a Japanese family directly benfitting from her work to name their baby daughter after the 27-year-old pilot.
JAMES KIMBER/STARS AND STRIPES