Face of Defense: Airman Aids Japan Recovery Effort

SENDAI, Japan — A lit­tle more than 14 years ago, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Fletch­er, who then held the rank of air­man basic, was lost on the streets of Tokyo.
It was the first week­end of Fletcher’s first week at his first assign­ment in Japan at Yoko­ta Air Base.

353rd Special Operations Group's air transportation team
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Fletch­er sits on a fork­lift at Sendai Air­port, Japan, March 20, 2011. Fletch­er is the non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer in charge of the 353rd Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Group’s air trans­porta­tion team.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse
Click to enlarge

Fletch­er said two Japan­ese cou­ples observed his predica­ment and escort­ed him to the cor­rect train, and then rode with him all the way to Yoko­ta.

When Fletch­er tried to pay his new­found Japan­ese friends for their time and kind­ness, he recalled, they said they were just hap­py to speak Eng­lish with some­one and were hap­py to help.

Fletch­er said that’s when he decid­ed Japan would be a good place to be sta­tioned. “I’ve been in love with Japan ever since,” he said.

Fletch­er is an air trans­porta­tion spe­cial­ist with the 353rd Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Group based at Kade­na Air Base, Japan. Now, he’s deployed to Sendai Air­port, where he over­sees car­go-load­ing oper­a­tions with a four-per­son crew.

Fletch­er and his team are sup­port­ing Oper­a­tion Tomodachi, the relief effort that’s aid­ing the Japan­ese peo­ple fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing March 11 earth­quake and tsuna­mi. Fletch­er was part of the ini­tial team sent here to help the Japan­ese recov­er and reopen the air­port.

Since Fletch­er and his crew arrived, he said, air trans­porters have unloaded mil­lions of pounds of water, food, blan­kets and oth­er relief sup­plies, in addi­tion to all of the equip­ment they need­ed to keep their part of the oper­a­tion going.

“This is the kind of thing most of us joined the Air Force to do,” Fletch­er said. “I can’t think of any­thing I’d rather be doing. We were told the Japan­ese peo­ple need­ed help, and well, they helped me the first week I lived here. Of course I want to do what­ev­er I can to give back.”

Fletch­er and his team live in the airport’s pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal along with scores of air­men, sol­diers and Marines also sup­port­ing the relief mis­sion. The group has an elec­tric gen­er­a­tor to run the com­put­ers need­ed for air traf­fic con­trol and car­go ship­ment man­i­fests. There’s lit­tle to no heat in the build­ing, Fletch­er said, so the days and nights are cold.

“It’s freez­ing in the ter­mi­nal, but at least I have a roof over my head,” he said. “We see it snow­ing out­side and real­ize that we’re the lucky ones. We’ve heard there are half-a-mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed, out of their homes and liv­ing in shel­ters. “So it’s cold, but it could be a lot worse,” he added.

The Japan­ese people’s strength, kind­ness and gen­eros­i­ty great­ly impress­es U.S. ser­vice mem­bers involved in Oper­a­tion Tomodachi, Fletch­er said. “One day, a Japan­ese man came all the way out here with a big bag of apples, just to thank us for what we were doing,” Fletch­er recalled. “That was the first fresh fruit any of us had had in eight days. I swear that was the best apple I’d ever tast­ed. I ate every­thing down to the seeds.”

Fletch­er said he and his crew are opti­mistic and focused on the task at hand.

“Every time the back of a plane opens up and it’s a pal­let of water, I can say for a fact, ‘Some­body needs that,’ ” Fletch­er said. “So when we get sup­plies off a C‑130 and onto a heli­copter, we know this whole thing is for a good cause.

“If I retired today, this would be the high­light of my career,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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