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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. Forces Japan finally received the call it awaited: Japan’s government needed plastic sheeting for survivors of last Saturday’s Niigata prefecture earthquakes.

USFJ spokeswoman Capt. Richelle Dowdell said Thursday that USFJ received the request through the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Tuesday morning, after U.S. Forces Japan provided a list of supplies that could be gathered quickly. “Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld signed the request personally,” Dowdell said. “Within a few hours … we were able to get a C-130 aircraft on its way.”

It left Yokota Air Base near Tokyo on Thursday morning with 6,000 pounds of plastic sheeting, flew to Misawa in northern Japan, refueled and loaded another 6,000 pounds of sheeting.

It was to land at Niigata on Thursday afternoon but broke down at Misawa. The C-130 was to be repaired the same day but Yokota spokesman 1st Lt. Warren Comer said delivery was postponed a day because Niigata’s airfield isn’t equipped for night landings. Another C-130 from Yokota was to pick up the crew, passengers and cargo at Misawa on Thursday, return to Yokota, pick up supplies the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is donating, then fly to Niigata on Friday, Comer said.

“We’re going to make sure it gets there but we want to make sure it gets there safely,” he said. “And we’re going to make it there with more supplies.”

Capt. O.G. Torres, a C-130 navigator with Yokota’s 36th Airlift Squadron and a crew member on the plane Thursday, said, “Any time you get to do a real-world mission to help people out, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. And we’re giving back to the country that’s hosting us.”

Though the military offered other items, such as blankets and tents, the initial request was for plastic sheeting. “That didn’t surprise us … that was one of the main items we were able to help the Japanese out with during the 1995 Kobe earthquake,” said Michael Boyle, a spokesman with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. The sheeting will be used “for essentially temporary repairs to housing to make them air-tight and water-tight,” he said. “It’s a quick way to get people out of the elements.”

The death toll from the series of violent earthquakes and after-shocks in the rural prefecture crept past 30 this week; with more than 100,000 still homeless, cold weather is becoming a serious threat.

Other U.S. military bases in Japan also were gathering donations. For instance, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan Regional Fire Department at Sasebo Naval Base is accepting donations such as new or dry-cleaned and packaged blankets, unused gloves and disposable pocket warmers, base spokeswoman Yoko Aramaki said Thursday afternoon.

“The items can be dropped off at any Sasebo fire department facility by COB (close of business) Monday, Nov. 8,” she said. Call the fire department at DSN 252-2143 for more information.

“Also, cash, yen and checks are acceptable through the base chaplain’s office with the same deadline. The funds will be forwarded to the Japan Red Cross Agency to assist victims of the earthquakes,” Aramaki added. Call the chaplain’s office at DSN 252-3380 for more information or to make monetary donations.

Greg Tyler contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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