US military drills focus on disaster relief in Japan

Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Chris Miller, of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51, uses his in-helmet microphone to communicate with the aircraft pilots and on-ground controllers during the Big Kanagawa Rescue exercise, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Kanagawa, Japan. Miller is responsible for ensuring the safety of on-loading supplies and personnel during any flight or exercise.



YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. servicemembers from Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Yokota Air Base took part in separate disaster-relief exercises this week, training to provide a strong response to such crises.

For the fourth year in a row, U.S. forces joined local and national Japanese agencies for the Big Kanagawa Rescue disaster exercise hosted Sunday by Kanagawa Prefecture.

Pilots and aircrew from Atsugi’s Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51 partnered with Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka to provide simulated medical treatment throughout the prefecture, according to a U.S. Navy statement. The drill involved overcoming difficulties — including downed power lines and gas- and propane-tank explosions — to prepare for possible real-life obstacles.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to participate in a drill like this,” Lt. Alex Stone, an HSM-51 pilot, said in the statement. “Having the opportunity to engage with our host nation and learn to operate alongside them has been an incredible asset, not only to me but to our whole squadron.”

On Tuesday at Yokota, airmen and Marines conducted humanitarian-aid training with an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The exercise was aimed at getting the Marine Corps and Air Force used to working together when responding to natural disasters and other contingencies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, 374th Airlift Wing spokeswoman Kaori Matsukasa said in an email.

“Since Yokota is the airlift hub of the western Pacific, and because of its proximity to one of the world’s most densely populated cities, it is vital we train here with all our valued partners, as Yokota provides a strategic location for all parties to operate from during a natural disaster,” she said.

The training was supposed to involve numerous aircraft in disaster-readiness drills, but that part of the exercise was canceled because of rain.

Ospreys use tilt-rotor engines to fly like fixed-wing aircraft or take off and land like helicopters.

In May, the Department of Defense announced that a special operations squadron of CV-22 Ospreys would be stationed at Yokota from 2017. Three Ospreys will arrive in the second half of 2017, with seven more slated to arrive by 2021, the DOD said.

The Ospreys, which have been stationed on Okinawa since 2012, had yet to arrive in Japan when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan’s east coast in March 2011.

Yokota was used to support Operation Tomodachi, relief efforts by U.S. Forces Japan in response to the disaster.

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U.S. Navy Nurse Corps Lt. Samantha Nelson, left, of U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka, discusses the flight pattern with Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 1st Class Chris Miller, of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51, during the Big Kanagawa Rescue exercise, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Kanagawa, Japan. The annual exercise is designed to test the ability of local and national agencies to coordinate an effective disaster recovery effort.

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