Yokota, Misawa send aid to earthquake victims
NIIGATA PREFECTURE, Japan — A Yokota Air Base C-130 crew delivered a pair of disaster-relief packages to this earthquake-ravaged region Friday, dropping off pallets loaded with plastic sheeting, portable toilets and undergarments in separate airlifts.
While the U.S. military offered other items, such as blankets and tents, the Japanese government’s initial request to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo called for plastic sheeting only. Yokota and Misawa Air Base responded with more than 10,000 pounds of the protective material collected from available stock.
“They can use it to make tents and temporarily repair homes that have been damaged,” said Marine Sgt. Jeffrey Grounds, a logistics representative from Headquarters, U.S. Forces Japan, who verified receipt of the emergency supplies with Japan Self-Defense Force personnel handling distribution of relief supplies in the prefecture.
“There’s a very good possibility we’ll have more aircraft to follow. The United States government will provide more support as needed. Right now, we’re awaiting a response from the Japanese government to see what else they need. The U.S. government has been very proactive from the beginning to see what kind of assistance they need.”
In a news release issued Friday evening, USFJ officials said no other requests have been made, but additional airlifts could be arranged if needed.
Niigata Prefecture, a rural, mountainous area nestled along the Sea of Japan coastline, has been rocked by a series of devastating earthquakes and continuous aftershocks that began Oct. 23. The death toll sits at 36, with about 100,000 still homeless. Exposure risks had become a concern because of increasingly colder temperatures in the region.
After hauling the plastic sheeting to Niigata Airport earlier in the day, the C-130 crew returned to Yokota, where it was reloaded with about 4,700 pounds of relief supplies donated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The cities of Tachikawa, Akishima, Fussa, Musashimurayama, Hamura and Mizuho Town — which surround Yokota — chipped in an extra 2,500 pounds.
The entire batch, which arrived in Niigata on Friday afternoon, included portable toilets, undergarments, toilet paper and diapers.
“Today’s successful airlift relief missions are a great example of the outstanding relationship we have with the Japan Self-Defense Forces, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and each of our neighboring communities,” Col. Douglas Kreulen, the 374th Airlift Wing vice commander, said in the news release.
Capt. Eric Dopslaf, a navigator with the 36th Airlift Squadron who was part Friday’s effort, said the mission certainly strayed from the C-130 crew’s regular flight plan.
“This is more rewarding, and it’s what we train for — helping the people of Japan,” he said. “We’re ambassadors for our country. It’s truly an honor to help these folks out.”
Capt. Michael Yi, airlift director for the 374th Operations Support Squadron, and another crew member said Friday the two trips were highly unique.
“It felt really good to do this,” he said. “Instead of flying around the flagpole, as we usually do in training, we’re doing a mission that [Pacific Air Forces] has deemed for us. The Japanese people are great, and to give back something to their community in Niigata provides us with a good sense of accomplishment.
“This also shows the Japanese government that even though we’re busy in other places like Iraq, we’re still committed here as well. It’s a great sign of our friendship.”
Mechanical problems Thursday with a different C-130 aircraft delayed the shipment by a day, but that didn’t diminish the humanitarian mission’s importance, said 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman at Yokota.
“Right now, we’re just happy to support with what we’ve been requested,” he said. “This is stuff we had available, supplies we could fill. We’re more than happy to do it. It’s symbolic of the cooperation between the Japanese government and the United States.”
Capt. Kazumi Hayashi, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force liaison officer who’s in charge of supplies carried by Japan Air Self-Defense Force aircraft at Niigata Airport, said Friday’s exchange marked his first encounter with the American military.
“We really appreciate the help from the U.S. military,” he said. “We’re very happy that Americans in Japan cooperate in the aid effort for victims. It’s very important that we all help out.”