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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The 374th Airlift Wing’s command element, with a few dozen other community members, stepped outside Yokota’s gates Saturday to take part in a pair of annual summer festivals.

After visiting the Hamura Summer Festival earlier in the day, Col. Mark Schissler, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, led the contingent across Highway 16 to the Yokota Home retirement facility, where an estimated 350 people had gathered for food, drinks and Tanabata dancing. Among those attending was Fussa City Mayor Hisato Nozawa.

“Next to doing the mission, community relations is the most important thing we do here,” Schissler said. “We’re friendly on the local level, and that carries over to our friendship on the national level.

“Japan is our best ally, best partner and best friend. So these outings are very important.”

The Yokota Home festival has grown steadily each year, said Jack Inagaki, the facility’s director, who also serves as vice president of the Fussa-Yokota Goodwill Exchange Club. The festival began in 1995, when Tanabata dancers from Yokota first turned out to perform for the home’s residents.

“Since then, the commanders started coming out once a year in the summer,” Inagaki said. “The friendly relations between the base and local city is very important and this event helps.”

He said up to 50 people from the Yokota Home will visit the base during next month’s annual Friendship Festival.

The retirement facility houses 100 people; another 30 are registered as transient residents.

“This community is right in front of our main gate,” Schissler said. “Most of our servicemembers probably hang out in Fussa. They’re some of our best friends, and it’s important we have a chance to see them. We get to learn all about their culture, and deepen our friendship.”

Yokota’s Samurai Taiko Team performed earlier Saturday at the Hamura street festival. Schissler also met with that city’s mayor, Shin Namiki.

“I got to see two mayors in one day. It’s been an incredibly good afternoon for me,” Schissler said. “Today was a great opportunity for our base to reach out.”

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