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USO Area director Natalie Rowland and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Master Sgt. Takako Sasaki pose after USO Japan’s 2022 Salute to Service Awards at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Nov. 10, 2022.

USO Area director Natalie Rowland and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Master Sgt. Takako Sasaki pose after USO Japan’s 2022 Salute to Service Awards at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Nov. 10, 2022. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USO recognized 14 people recently from U.S. and Japanese service branches for their community service in Japan the past year.

More than 40 people gathered at the Officer’s Club at Yokosuka Naval Base for the USO Japan’s 14th annual Salute to Service Awards.

The awards celebrate service members who not only excel in their careers, but also significantly contribute to their communities. Nominees are selected based on a variety of criteria, including professional development, personal achievement, leadership and volunteerism. 

“It is a great testimony to your commitment to excellence, exceptional leadership and selfless devotion to serving others that you are here tonight with us,” said Natalie Rowland, USO area director, during the ceremony. 

The winners of USO Japan’s 2022 Salute to Service Awards pose with USO area director Natalie Rowland at the Officers Club at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Nov. 10, 2022. From left: Petty Officer 3rd Class Hiroki Shirakura, Cpl. Michael Burdick, Petty Officer 1st Class Mionca Tomlinson, Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Payne, Rowland, Chief Petty Officer Daniel Nielson, Staff Sgt. Jarrod White, Master Sgt. Makoto Fujita, Master Sgt. Takako Sasaki and 1st Sgt. Guy Weaver

The winners of USO Japan’s 2022 Salute to Service Awards pose with USO area director Natalie Rowland at the Officers Club at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Nov. 10, 2022. From left: Petty Officer 3rd Class Hiroki Shirakura, Cpl. Michael Burdick, Petty Officer 1st Class Mionca Tomlinson, Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Payne, Rowland, Chief Petty Officer Daniel Nielson, Staff Sgt. Jarrod White, Master Sgt. Makoto Fujita, Master Sgt. Takako Sasaki and 1st Sgt. Guy Weaver (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

Typical among the honorees was Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Master Sgt. Takako Sasaki, 50, of Aomori. Sasaki was nominated for volunteering at various clean-up projects and working as a mental health counselor.

It was an honor to receive the award, she told Stars and Stripes after the ceremony, and she hopes that the other volunteers that have worked with her also share the credit. 

Every U.S. military base in Japan, except those on Okinawa, and each branch of the Japan Self-Defense Forces were represented at the ceremony.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarrod White and U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Daniel Nielson were nominated by Yokota Air Base, the headquarters in western Tokyo of U.S. Forces Japan. Shannon Lamberti, a civilian USO volunteer from Yokota, was also recognized.

Yokosuka Naval Base, homeport of the 7th Fleet, nominated Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mionca Tomlinson and Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Payne. 

From the Marine Corps in Japan came Cpl. Michael Burdick of the Marines’ Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, and Cpl. Jasmin Davilajuarez of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

Burdick, 21, of Lake Forest, Calif., was recognized for his contributions to recreational facilities at Camp Fuji, including the USO lounge and the base’s chapel. A staffing shortage left both facilities without much support, so he stepped in for maintenance tasks, he said. 

“I feel very honored, and I feel appreciated by command,” he told Stars and Stripes after the ceremony. “And I’m very humbled that someone sees the work you put in and decides to award you.”

Camp Zama, the headquarters southwest of Tokyo of U.S. Army Japan nominated 1st Sgt. Guy Weaver; Misawa Air Base nominated Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher White. 

Representing Sasebo Naval Base was Petty Officer 1st Class Regina Corpus and Petty Officer 1st Class Dennies Damaso. 

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force nominated Master Sgt. Makoto Fujita, the Ground Self-Defense Force nominated Sasaki and the Maritime Self-Defense Force nominated Petty Officer 3rd Class Hiroki Shirakura.

“We thank you for standing beside our U.S. military service members as we partner to protect and serve the Indo-Pacific region from harm together, building a safe future for generations to come,” Rowland told the Japanese honorees during the ceremony. “Thank you for your enduring friendship.”

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.

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