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Sailors from NAF Misawa left Friday for the 55th annual Sapporo Snow Festival, where they'll carve one of hundreds of ice sculptures that turn the city into a winter wonderland. From left: Airman Christopher Morin, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ralph Mitchell, Petty Officer 1st Class Keith Matheson, Chief Petty Officer Ariel Genido, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Luis Renova.
Sailors from NAF Misawa left Friday for the 55th annual Sapporo Snow Festival, where they'll carve one of hundreds of ice sculptures that turn the city into a winter wonderland. From left: Airman Christopher Morin, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ralph Mitchell, Petty Officer 1st Class Keith Matheson, Chief Petty Officer Ariel Genido, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Luis Renova. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY MISAWA, Japan — When the 55th annual Sapporo Snow Festival starts Feb. 5, two groups of Americans hope to dazzle the crowds with frosted masterpieces.

A team of five sailors from Misawa will chisel a six-foot square of ice into Uncle Sam perched on a globe showing the Pacific region and the United States, said team leader Chief Petty Officer Ariel Genido.

“We’re trying to show appreciation for our host country,” he said.

While the Navy team participates strictly for fun, a group of five Americans from Yokota Air Base, Japan, is eyeing a trophy in the prestigious international competition.

The Yokota team, one contractor, two military members and a Defense Department civilian who is also a military spouse, represents the United States, but is not affiliated with the U.S. military or government, said team manager Christina Knoblauch. Team members receive permission from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and other government channels to call themselves the “USA snow sculpting team,” she said.

NAF Misawa will be the only military team with a sculpture in this year’s festival, according to event organizers.

The sailors started work Saturday and must finish by Wednesday, in time for Thursday’s opening ceremony.

The festival draws about two million international visitors to Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. From Feb. 5 to 11, the city hosts crystal statutes and sculptures, some as big as houses.

The Ground Self-Defense Forces will provide an interpreter and guide as well as lodging for the sailors at Camp Sapporo barracks.

The USA team has a blueprint of their sculpture, and they’ve been practicing for weeks on clay.

“We’re going to be carving the towers after they were hit,” Knoblauch said, referring to the World Trade Center and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The team will compete against at least 18 other countries in the 31st International Snow Statue Contest. Knoblauch said it’s extremely competitive.

“It’s strictly snow,” she added. “We cannot use any pipes, wood, colors — nothing. Just the snow that they give us and tools to carve,” she said.

Blocks of snow are hosed down with water until they freeze. Judging and the award ceremony is Feb. 7.

The USA team covers most trip costs for members, including team uniforms, airfare, transportation to the airport, a per diem, incidentals, and a couple of meals, Knoblauch said.

Those interested in joining the team for next year’s festival should contact David Russo at 090-4546-6814.

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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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