News: Operation Tomodachi continues III MEF, MCBJ supporting relief efforts
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher
More than 1,000 III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan Marines and sailors are deployed to mainland Japan supporting Government of Japan-led humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan March 11.
By March 24, III MEF had flown more than 450 helicopter and aircraft missions providing assistance in survivor recovery, personnel transport and relief supplies distribution. More than 129,000 pounds of water and 4,200 pounds of food have been distributed, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Beginning March 12, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MEF, personnel were boarding KC-130J cargo aircraft bound for mainland and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, MAG-36, pilots were flying CH-46E transport helicopters to Naval Air Facility Atsugi to provide assistance in surrounding areas.
“We consider Japan our home away from home, and the survivors (of the natural disaster) are in our prayers,” said Lt. Col. Damien M. Marsh, commanding officer of HMM-265, also known as the “Dragons.”
“We have made dozens of deliveries into small (landing zones) located near the survival shelters,” said Marsh. “The Dragons are honored that we are able to help. Our training has prepared us well for this mission.”
Since deploying to mainland Japan, the Marines of HMM-265 have flown 164 support sorties carrying 130 passengers and transporting 94,230 pounds of cargo, according to Marsh.
Marsh said he has been impressed with the compassion disaster survivors have shown for each other.
“A credit to the survivors is their compassion for others. On several landings, they refused excess supplies and asked us to fly them to other shelters that need them more,” Marsh said.
“The Marines and sailors of HMM-265 have been deeply touched be the actions of survivors. Everybody wants to help,” he said adding when the squadron makes deliveries, it’s often the survivors who line up to help the air crews unload supplies quickly.
III MEF has also deployed other assets in support of Operation Tomodachi.
The first III MEF Humanitarian Assistance Survey Teams were deployed to mainland Japan March 12 with additional teams sent March 13. These teams assess damage in affected areas and provide this information to commanders for more efficient disaster relief planning. In all, four HASTs were deployed.
By March 13, III MEF (Forward) had established a command element on mainland Japan responsible for coordinating Marine Corps relief efforts with the larger support effort conducted by U.S. Forces Japan which also includes coordination by the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Pacific Command, all working closely with Japanese authorities.
A Forward Air Refueling Point, transported from Okinawa on the WestPac Express High Speed Vessel, was established March 16 at Yamagata Airfield. A FARP is a temporary refueling facility that facilitates the continuous operation of aircraft. The FARP at Yamagata will allow aircraft to refuel there when delivering needed supplies in the tsunami-ravaged Sendai region, greatly increasing the III MEF’s abilities to provide support to this region.
Marines stationed at the Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, convoyed from the camp to Yamagata Airport March 17-18, escorted by Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members, to join III MEF (Fwd) and establish a Humanitarian Assistance Center. Convoy assets included six 7-tons, 11 humvees, communication trucks and other tactical vehicles.
“This is a testament to our commitment to this effort and our relationship with the JGSDF,” said Lt. Col. Anthony N. Frasco, CATC Camp Fuji’s executive officer, March 17 of having the convoy organized and on the road within 48 hours of being tasked.
“We are looking forward to joining the relief efforts,” said Col. Craig S. Kozeniesky, CATC Camp Fuji’s commanding officer, March 18.
The Marines of HMM-265 had delivered more than 42,000 pounds of heating fuel to small villages in Japan’s northern areas by March 18, according to HMM-265 officials.
“Knowing that we were helping the Japanese government to deliver warmth to its people was extremely rewarding,” said Marsh.
Marines with 1st MAW units are conducting almost daily flights from MCAS Futenma transporting III MEF personnel as well as delivering food, water, blankets communication equipment and other needed supplies to MCAS Iwakuni, Yokota Air Base, Atsugi and Misawa Air Base for redistribution to areas needing aid. Marine aircraft have also flown numerous sorties throughout Japan in support of aid missions.
In addition, III MEF aircraft were the first to fly into the Sendai Airport March 20 since the airport reopened after suffering extensive damage.
III MEF Marines and sailors are deployed throughout mainland Japan at MCAS Iwakuni, Yokota, Atsugi, Camp Sendai and Yamagata Air Field.
Tomodachi, which means “friends” in Japanese, was the name selected by Japan for this operation.