News: Shizuoka prefectural government officials visit III MEF, MCIPAC
Story by Lance Cpl. Brianna Christensen
CAMP FOSTER, Japan - Officials from the Shizuoka prefectural government visited Okinawa earlier this year as part of a five-day personnel exchange program conducted with Marine Corps Installations Pacific and III Marine Expeditionary Force to better learn about the Marine Corps and discuss disaster response capabilities.
The visit began at Camp Courtney Jan. 23, where officials heard briefings about III MEF, viewed static displays of two 7-ton trucks, toured Camp Courtney, received an Operation Tomodachi brief, and talked with Japan Ground Self-Defense Force liaison officers assigned to III MEF about their roles and responsibilities.
The group received a briefing by members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade on the following day, toured Camp Hansen, and meting with JGSDF personnel who were training with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, one of the units that provided disaster relief during Operation Tomodachi following the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011. This month marks the second anniversary of the disaster, which claimed almost 20,000 lives.
At MCIPAC headquarters Jan. 25, the visitors were met by members of G-7, government and external affairs office, MCIPAC, who gave an overview presentation about MCIPAC. The visiting officials also spoke with Koichiro Nakamoto and Aya Urasaki, community relations specialists in the G-7, who worked as liaisons during Operation Tomodachi.
“It is good for them to share their experiences with representatives of local communities,” said Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7. “If there is ever another disaster in Japan, some of the liaisons will likely come from our office again.”
After the presentation, they met with Col. Jonathan D. Covington, the deputy commander of MCIPAC, who spoke about the importance of the relationship with Shizuoka prefecture, which has been designated as the potential site of a large-scale earthquake and tsunami, as symbolic of the partnership between the U.S. and Japan.
“There are many exercises in Japan that rehearse what we would do in the event of an emergency,” said Tetsuya Oishi, the assistant director of the emergency countermeasures division, Shizuoka prefectural government. “We have recently had members of the U.S. Army on board Japan Self-Defense Force aircraft to visit the nuclear power plant and conduct radioactive monitoring training. It was a great team effort, and we would like to coordinate more events like this.”
Marines with Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji have been actively participating in meetings with Shizuoka Prefecture as well, added Oishi.
Service members stationed in Okinawa have a great opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, according to Covington.
“One of our challenges here is that we want to make this an enduring relationship, but being in the military causes many of us to leave every two to three years,” said Covington. “These frequent visits between U.S. service members and members of the central, prefectural, and local governments are crucial to building relationships that will last.”
The Marine Corps and Shizuoka prefecture interact at least once a month, according to Eldridge.
“We are constantly working (together),” said Eldridge. “It is always well-planned and consistent, which leads to us having a great relationship.”
A tour of MCIPAC headquarters and the MCIPAC and Marine Corps Base Camp Butler fire and emergency services fire department followed the presentations and meetings with MCIPAC leadership.
"Over the last few years, we have been aggressively working to update our mutual emergency operations agreement locally here in Okinawa," said Scott S. Minakami, the regional fire chief for the department. "The agreement outlines how to request assistance and has been very helpful to both us and host nation fire departments."
The agreement has already helped the fire department submit a formal request with the Uruma City fire department to use their ladder truck while the Camp Courtney ladder truck is away for extended maintenance, according to Minakami. The department has also supported local fire departments in the same manner, showing great cooperation between the U.S. and Okinawa fire departments.
The visit at MCIPAC ended with a discussion with members of G-3/5, operations and training, MCIPAC, about emergency plans in the event of a natural disaster.
"We all learned a great lesson during Operation Tomadachi," said Mike Lacey, the regional installation emergency manager for MCIPAC. "Since then, I made it my goal to better prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis. The Marine Corps is committed to assisting the community however it can during a disaster of any kind. I am glad I was a part of this visit, and I look forward to the next one.”
The Shizuoka officials visited White Beach Naval Facility and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Jan. 28 and 3rd Marine Logistics Group Jan. 29, where they received a command brief and toured a field hospital, field kitchen and some of the warehouses.
During their final evening, the visitors met with representatives of a local think tank in Okinawa interested in disaster preparedness and shared their experiences over the previous week.
“Shizuoka is a model in being proactive in disaster preparedness and forging relationships with the U.S. military," said Eldridge. "Many prefectures around Japan are looking at the Shizuoka-USMC relationship."