News: Soldier scientists monitor radiation deploys in support of Operation Tomodachi
Story by Sgt. Derek Kuhn
AICHI, Japan - After the March 11 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, much of north eastern Japan was left to recover from the destruction caused by the natural disasters. Complicating matters, the Fukushima nuclear power plant went off-line, which prompted many to evacuate what was left of their homes.
The Army, along with other U.S. services, rushed to aid the Japanese Self Defense Forces in helping tsunami victims. United States Forces Command deployed a team of specialized soldiers to assess and monitor the conditions in which service members would be operating. The Army deployed the 9th Area Medical Laboratory out of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
The 9th AML is unique within the Department of Defense. It is one of two specialized mobile laboratories at the Army Medical Department‘s disposal.
The soldier-scientists of the 9th AML are performing surveillance, confirmatory analytical lab testing and health hazard assessments of environmental, occupational, and endemic disease concerns, in addition to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats in support of Joint Support Force efforts in the ongoing relief efforts. They do this by monitoring air, water and soil at U.S. installations in Japan.
“We deployed quickly here,” said Col. Rachel Armstrong, the commander of the 9th AML. “We wanted to ensure that our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were not exposed to radiation.”
“As soon as we got here, our guys went into the field to take samples of the soil, water and air,” Armstrong, a Columbus, Ohio native, said. “From there, we began analyzing the samples and compiling the data to determine what are the health effects of radiation.”
Armstrong said after compiling, analyzing and interpreting the data from samples throughout Japan, the 9th AML found welcome news—the radiation where service members were and are operating does not pose a health risk.
“The levels of radiation are very low,” said Lt. Col. James Mancuso, a preventative medicine physician, 9th AML, “and they continue to decrease daily.”
“Even the soldiers who were operating closest [to Fukushima] at Sendai Airport didn’t experience any noticeable increase in exposure [compared to the service members farther away from Fukushima],” Mancuso said.
Even though the radiation levels are very low, the 9th AML still diligently monitors and assesses the conditions in which service members are operating, Armstrong said.
“The safety of our service members and their families is our top priority,” Armstrong said. “We continue to monitor our areas of operation very closely.”
The 9th AML does this by doing what they have done since they arrived in Japan; that is getting out and collecting samples.
“We are still going out to various sites,” said Sgt. Ryan Wickenden, a Health Physics Technician with the 9th AML and an Odessa, Texas native. “It is important to monitor the radiation to make sure the levels stay low enough that it doesn’t pose a risk [to service members].”
“We haven’t found any hot spots or any radiation that jeopardizes soldiers or their families,” Wickenden added.Many of the 9th AML enjoy and take pride in ensuring the safety of their brothers and sisters-in-arms.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Japan,” Armstrong said. “For all of us, seeing the strength and the resilience of the Japanese people has been truly inspiring. We are all deeply honored to serve on this mission and support Japan in its time of need.”
Wickenden agreed with Armstrong and appreciates the opportunity to do his job.
“Being here and knowing that the job I’m doing makes sure [service members in Japan] are safe while they are here helping with the relief efforts gives me a great sense of pride,” Wickenden said.