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Sgt. Nickolas Jones, 26 from the 78th Signal Battalion watches a movie during some down time at the temporary U.S. military camp at Sendai Airport.
Sgt. Nickolas Jones, 26 from the 78th Signal Battalion watches a movie during some down time at the temporary U.S. military camp at Sendai Airport. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Sgt. Nickolas Jones, 26 from the 78th Signal Battalion watches a movie during some down time at the temporary U.S. military camp at Sendai Airport.
Sgt. Nickolas Jones, 26 from the 78th Signal Battalion watches a movie during some down time at the temporary U.S. military camp at Sendai Airport. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Marine Corps Capt. Jason Smith, the communications officer of Combat Logistics Regiment 35 out of Okinawa, Japan, cuts his hair using a generator control panel window as a mirror at the temporary camp set up at the Sendai Airport.
Marine Corps Capt. Jason Smith, the communications officer of Combat Logistics Regiment 35 out of Okinawa, Japan, cuts his hair using a generator control panel window as a mirror at the temporary camp set up at the Sendai Airport. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers from the 35th Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion stationed at Camp Zama, Japan take a break at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The camp is the temporary home to the largest contingent of U.S. ground troops doing tsunami relief in northern Japan.
Soldiers from the 35th Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion stationed at Camp Zama, Japan take a break at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The camp is the temporary home to the largest contingent of U.S. ground troops doing tsunami relief in northern Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Spc. Dylan Norton, 21 from the Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion eats a Meals, Ready-to-Eat with fellow soldiers at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The is base houses about 200 Marines and soldiers, out of Okinawa and camps Fuji and Zama as well as a few Airmen out of Hawaii.
Spc. Dylan Norton, 21 from the Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion eats a Meals, Ready-to-Eat with fellow soldiers at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The is base houses about 200 Marines and soldiers, out of Okinawa and camps Fuji and Zama as well as a few Airmen out of Hawaii. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Gunnery Sgt. Eric Pate, the communications chief for Task Force Fuji lifts weights outside his work tent at the temporary U.S. Military camp set up at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. He said he works out every day.
Gunnery Sgt. Eric Pate, the communications chief for Task Force Fuji lifts weights outside his work tent at the temporary U.S. Military camp set up at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. He said he works out every day. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
A Marine talks on the phone oustide the command operations center at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The homemade wooden sign stands for Combat Logistics Regiment-35.
A Marine talks on the phone oustide the command operations center at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The homemade wooden sign stands for Combat Logistics Regiment-35. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Elbon, center, the arrival and departure air control group chief, talks with co-workers in the command and control center at the temporary U.S. military camp set up at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. David Elbon, center, the arrival and departure air control group chief, talks with co-workers in the command and control center at the temporary U.S. military camp set up at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Sgt. James Harrison, 31, with the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, talks about the two dosimeters the Army and Air Force require him to wear at the temporary U.S. military camp set up at Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan.
Sgt. James Harrison, 31, with the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, talks about the two dosimeters the Army and Air Force require him to wear at the temporary U.S. military camp set up at Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Sgt. James Harrison, 31, with the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, talks about the two dosimeters the Army and Air Force require him to wear at the temporary U.S. military camp set up at Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan.
Sgt. James Harrison, 31, with the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, talks about the two dosimeters the Army and Air Force require him to wear at the temporary U.S. military camp set up at Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
An elevated view of the temporary U.S. military camp set up at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan, that is housing about 200 Marines and soldiers.
An elevated view of the temporary U.S. military camp set up at the Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan, that is housing about 200 Marines and soldiers. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
A sign that reads, "This is not an entrance-1st Platoon," hangs outside the rear entrance to a tent at a temporary camp set up at Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The base is home to about 200 Marines and soldiers, out of Okinawa and camps Fuji and Zama as well as a few Airmen out of Hawaii.
A sign that reads, "This is not an entrance-1st Platoon," hangs outside the rear entrance to a tent at a temporary camp set up at Sendai Airport in Sendai, Japan. The base is home to about 200 Marines and soldiers, out of Okinawa and camps Fuji and Zama as well as a few Airmen out of Hawaii. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
The headquarters building for the Japan Self-Defense Force Northeastern Army at Camp Sendai, Japan.
The headquarters building for the Japan Self-Defense Force Northeastern Army at Camp Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
The streets of Camp Sendai are full of Japan Self-Defense Force vehicles.
The streets of Camp Sendai are full of Japan Self-Defense Force vehicles. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
A soldier with the Japan Self-Defense Force rides his bicycle through a street at Camp Sendai, Japan.
A soldier with the Japan Self-Defense Force rides his bicycle through a street at Camp Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
The symbol for "disaster" leads the message indicating the vehicle is being used for disaster relief efforts. A similar message is affixed to all Japan Self-Defense Force vehicles at Camp Sendai, Japan.
The symbol for "disaster" leads the message indicating the vehicle is being used for disaster relief efforts. A similar message is affixed to all Japan Self-Defense Force vehicles at Camp Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Marines, soldiers and troops from the Japan Self-Defense Force sleep in a male berthing at Camp Sendai, Japan.
Marines, soldiers and troops from the Japan Self-Defense Force sleep in a male berthing at Camp Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Three Marine Corps officers eat lunch at a diner at Camp Sendai, Japan as Japan Self Defense Force troops read manga after finishing their meals.
Three Marine Corps officers eat lunch at a diner at Camp Sendai, Japan as Japan Self Defense Force troops read manga after finishing their meals. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
A soldier, along with Marines and troops from the Japan Self-Defense Force, sleeps in a male berthing at Camp Sendai, Japan.
A soldier, along with Marines and troops from the Japan Self-Defense Force, sleeps in a male berthing at Camp Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)
Marine Corps Sgt. Jesse Bramer, 26, with the Combat Assault Battalion out of Camp Schwab, Okinawa, pours hot water over cans of coffee to heat them at Camp Sendai, Japan.
Marine Corps Sgt. Jesse Bramer, 26, with the Combat Assault Battalion out of Camp Schwab, Okinawa, pours hot water over cans of coffee to heat them at Camp Sendai, Japan. (Nathan A. Bailey/Stars and Stripes)

SENDAI, Japan — The orderly rows of tents, vehicles, port-a-johns, and pallets of equipment, food and water at Sendai Airport stand in stark contrast to the surrounding sea of tsunami debris that engulfed the airport and nearby land on March 11.

The 200 Marines and soldiers from Okinawa and camps Fuji and Zama, as well as a few airmen out of Hawaii, — the largest contingent of U.S. ground troops conducting disaster relief in northern Japan — have finished clearing nearby roads and runways, but acres of land around the airport remain a mess of fallen power lines, wrecked vehicles and aircraft buried by sand and dirt churned up in the disaster.

While the servicemembers are focused on the mission of delivering aid to the victims of the March 11 tsunami, they are also trying to make the best of the situation at their Spartan base.

One of the Marines working there Sunday, Master Sgt. James Miller, 38, of Temecula, Calif., said the camp has improved since an advance party arrived three weeks ago. The first Marines to hit the ground didn’t have tents, so they slept on cots in a freezing cold terminal in between missions during which they surveyed areas where people were displaced by the disaster.

“As soon as we brought our tents in, we started setting up the camp in a car park in front of the terminal,” said Miller, a member of the 3rd Logistics Group out of Okinawa.

The camp has grown to include about 20 heated tents and two motor pools for the heavy equipment, trucks and Humvees that the Marines and soldiers use on missions. The heart of the base is a command operations tent full of Marines working on laptops to plan missions.

“The bulk of forward deployed forces in Operation Tamodachi are here,” Miller said. “Command and control for humanitarian assistance in this prefecture (Miyagi) is organized from here.”

At the break of dawn, many of the troops set off on missions to deliver aid to far-flung communities.

As a precaution, U.S. military personnel working on the ground in the disaster zone all wear one or more “dosimeters” that record the amount of radiation they’ve been exposed to.

So far, no one has received a dangerous dose from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, which is leaking radiation about 60 miles south of Sendai, according Marine chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist Sgt. John Sulzynski, 29, of Binghamton, N.Y.

“I’ve got a wife and daughter at Camp Zama. I call and e-mail them all the time, but my wife is not worried about me,” said Army Staff Sgt. Shaun Clark, 34, of Guam, who is deployed with the 35th Combat Service Support Battalion out of Camp Zama. “I explained that they wouldn’t put us in a situation where we would get hurt.”

Despite the ongoing nuclear crisis and news of leaking radiation, the troops are making the best of situation.

Staff Sgt. Alejandro Anglada, 24, of Puerto Rico, said the camp at the airport has fewer amenities than the forward operating base he lived at in Baghdad, Iraq, during a 15-month deployment from 2006 to 2008.

“In Iraq, we had a PX (Post Exchange) and all the amenities,” he said. “Here we just have the tents.”

However there are some similarities, Anglada said.

“I went on a mission yesterday and saw all the debris on the side of the road,” he said. “For an instant, I thought I was back in Baghdad rolling around.”

Whether on the road or at the airport, the troops subsist on Meals, Ready to Eat, supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables and items from care packages such as chocolate bars, cookies and sodas sent by family members back on Okinawa.

And despite the lack of facilities at the airport, the troops at the airport have one thing they all look forward to.

“Every three days we go to Camp Sendai for a shower,” Clark said.

The soldiers also like visiting Camp Sendai — a clean, modern Japan Self-Defense facility where white-washed barracks stand between tree-lined grassy avenues — because they can shop for items such as underwear, socks, gloves and flashlights at a Japanese store. Or they can dine at a small restaurant.

Another 40 U.S. personnel are based at Camp Sendai, sleeping in a large room alongside Japanese soldiers and working long hours in a command post to coordinate operations with the JSDF.

Whether working from the airport or from Camp Sendai, the U.S. military presence is reassuring to the locals, said Marine Cpl. Mack Blaise, 22, of Beaverton, Ore., a 3rd Logistics group translator out of Okinawa.

“The help from other countries is good for the people here, especially mentally-wise,” he said. “It’s helping keep them going because a lot of them have lost their families and knowing they have a world-wide family that is there to help makes them feel better.”

robsons@estripes.osd.mil

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