News: Kizuna - Bilateral climbing team rescue injured hiker
Story by Jay Mann
CAMP ZAMA, Japan - Sacrifice, service and honor are traits that all soldiers share. But any soldier will tell you these traits are not spent on a country or government. They are spent on people and occasionally soldiers are given the opportunity to show what sacrifice, service and honor really look like.
On May 23, 2014, two Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members and a U.S. Soldier were hiking toward the summit of Mount Kobushidake in Yamanashi Prefecture. Sgt. 1st Class Jun Imoto and 1st Lt. Shuhei Ikeda, both from the JGSDF’s 3rd Division at Middle Army, were climbing with Capt. Fox Herron, from U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward).
Imoto and Ikeda were part of a 10-week bilateral Cooperative Working Program here and Herron was a sponsor while they were at Camp Zama in the demanding program of training and learning from each other for strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Being soldiers, they were well prepared for the 4-hour hike with heavy backpacks full of water and supplies. But they did not expect what the journey back down the mountain would hold.
A half hour into the decent, the three turned a corner and found a 73-year-old man injured and lying in a pool of blood on the trail.
Herron said, “The man, who only spoke Japanese to Sfc. Imoto and 1st Ikeda, relayed that he was hiking up the mountain alone when he lost his footing on a high step and fell onto a sharp branch.”
The branch, which was an inch thick, had penetrated deep into the man’s leg.
Ikeda said, “The man tried to stop the bleeding by tape, but the bleeding was continuing and his leg was covered in his blood.”
After assessing the situation, the three did not waste time and picked up the man’s heavy load and helped him to his feet. They knew that getting him down the mountain and to an ambulance was the man’s only chance.
“Fortunately, he could walk by himself with a trekking pole,” said Imoto, “Sometimes we supported him in steep areas. I was worried about his age.”
The path got very steep and the four began to take more breaks.
Ikeda said, “The man was able to walk, but the bleeding wasn’t stopping. Herron had first aid kits and tried to take measures to stop the bleeding.”
Two hours after finding the injured man, with his condition worsening, they saw they were nearing the bottom of the mountain.
Herron said, “Much of the group was low or out of water and the man’s bleeding had not stopped.”
They knew that once they reached the bottom it would take more time for an ambulance to arrive.
“Without regard for his personal safety, Sfc. Imoto sprinted down the steep trail alone,” added Herron.
Ikeda and Herron carried the gear and helped the injured man down the rest of the trail. At the bottom of the mountain, the three hikers found Imoto and paramedics ready for their arrival. The injured man’s hiking gear was returned to him as the paramedics prepared him for transport to the hospital.
What started as a fun day of hiking on the mountain for three soldiers, ended in a journey between them and an anonymous hiker that will bond – kizuna - them forever.
On June 6, all three were recognized for their actions by being awarded the U.S. Army Achievement Medal by Maj. Gen. James Boozer Sr., commanding general of USARJ and I Corps (Forward) during a ceremony here.