Operation Tomodachi Mission Continues Strong

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011 — The U.S. mil­i­tary will con­tin­ue to stand square­ly with Japan for as long as need­ed fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake, tsuna­mi and radi­o­log­i­cal cri­sis, the U.S. Pacif­ic Fleet com­man­der told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.
Navy Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, speak­ing by phone today from Yoko­ta Air Base, Japan, said Oper­a­tion Tomodachi, the U.S. mil­i­tary assis­tance mis­sion to Japan, shows no sign of wan­ing, even as the focus begins to turn from human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief to con­se­quence man­age­ment.

“This is an endur­ing com­mit­ment. This is an endur­ing rela­tion­ship,” Walsh said. “So we are pos­tur­ing our­selves for a long-term sup­port and an endur­ing com­mit­ment.”

Walsh said the long­stand­ing U.S.-Japan rela­tion­ship that under­pins the mis­sion runs deep­er than many peo­ple real­ize.

“In this case, we live here. We have homes here,” the admi­ral said. “And so we want to be here, side by side or one step behind, wher­ev­er they would like us to be as they go through this very cathar­tic process. It’s one we want to be in a posi­tion to sup­port.”

The U.S. mil­i­tary remains heav­i­ly involved in the mis­sion. Since the oper­a­tion start­ed, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have deliv­ered more than 260 tons of human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief sup­plies to sur­vivors in sup­port of Japan Self-Defense Force efforts.

Yes­ter­day, Defense Min­is­ter Toshi­mi Kitaza­wa and oth­er senior Japan­ese offi­cials vis­it­ed the air­craft car­ri­er USS Ronald Rea­gan to thank U.S. ser­vice mem­bers per­son­al­ly for their sup­port.

“When you con­sid­er the bur­den that all these men have car­ried for the past three weeks, to give us that amount of time was quite extra­or­di­nary,” Walsh said. “And I think it’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive of how they feel about the con­tri­bu­tion we have made that they want­ed to make this kind of per­son­al con­nec­tion with us.”

Walsh empha­sized that main­te­nance and re-pro­vi­sion­ing on some of these ships, and in some cas­es, the reas­sign­ment of some of their forces, in no way sig­nals a draw­down of Oper­a­tion Tomodachi. In fact, he said, “we have more peo­ple who have come to Japan than have left Japan in sup­port of this oper­a­tion.”

Any repos­tur­ing tak­ing place now, Walsh said, is only to ensure U.S. forces are pre­pared to sus­tain oper­a­tions for the long haul.

“From the fleet per­spec­tive, we have every ship we have here under way. … That has gone on for 30 days,” the admi­ral said. Now, he said, it’s time to con­sid­er the best way to “present our­selves and pos­ture our­selves so we can sus­tain this lev­el of sup­port over time — maybe refo­cus it, repri­or­i­tize it as events and con­di­tions on the ground change.” Walsh praised progress tak­ing place as Japan begins to recov­er from the dis­as­ter.

“There is an extra­or­di­nary lev­el of devel­op­ment that has tak­en place in a very short peri­od of time,” the admi­ral said. He called the reopen­ing of Sendai Air­port — ini­tial­ly con­sid­ered unsal­vage­able but quick­ly turned oper­a­tional for sup­port of human­i­tar­i­an flights “one of those sem­i­nal sorts of sto­ries that will go down as tru­ly remark­able.”

“Because we were able to work with the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment to get the run­way up and run­ning, we were able to devel­op a logis­tics hub,” Walsh con­tin­ued. “And with a logis­tics hub now, all kinds of things are pos­si­ble.”

Even as Japan begins rebuild­ing, he said, it’s still deal­ing with the heart­break­ing recov­ery mis­sion. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are method­i­cal­ly going from loca­tion to loca­tion and house to house, search­ing for and recov­er­ing vic­tims’ remains, Walsh said.

U.S. sup­port is expect­ed to shift more toward help­ing Japan deal with nuclear con­se­quence man­age­ment and radi­o­log­i­cal issues, Walsh said. How­ev­er, he added, the U.S. mil­i­tary will con­tin­ue to “be on call when they need us to do more sup­port for logis­tics or human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance or dis­as­ter relief up north.”

About 400 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers are cur­rent­ly sup­port­ing con­se­quence man­age­ment mis­sions in Japan, Walsh said, not­ing that an ini­tial response force recent­ly arrived to pro­vide sup­port. Its mem­bers aren’t phys­i­cal­ly going into Japan’s nuclear reac­tors, he not­ed, but are serv­ing in an advise-and-assist role.

“The abil­i­ty to piv­ot from the human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance [mis­sion] to the con­se­quence man­age­ment piece, I think, is an impor­tant ele­ment of an agile orga­ni­za­tion,” Walsh said. “Being able to adapt to a chang­ing con­di­tion on the ground is reflec­tive of our abil­i­ty to work with Self-Defense Forces and the gov­ern­ment of Japan, to lis­ten close­ly to what their needs are and to do what they want us to do in order to sup­port them.”

The com­plex­i­ty of the mis­sion in Japan under­scores the lev­el of the U.S. com­mit­ment, Walsh said.

“To use the term ‘Oper­a­tion Tomodachi’ in an envi­ron­ment where it is radi­o­log­i­cal­ly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed, that is where you find out who your friends are,” he said. “We are here, and we are right in the mid­dle of this thing with Japan when it comes to fight­ing this prob­lem here with the nuclear pow­er plant. And once again we are in a posi­tion to sup­port. We will go where they need us to go and we will sup­port them as they need us to sup­port them.”

Walsh said Japan has been extreme­ly forth­com­ing about radi­a­tion lev­els, post­ing data col­lect­ed by 80 sen­sors arrayed around the coun­try on a pub­lic web­site.

This infor­ma­tion shar­ing helps guide U.S. sup­port mis­sions, he said, so those involved know where it’s safe to oper­ate and where it’s not and take nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions.

“This is the envi­ron­ment we are in, so we are going to go into it smart and learn how to stay alert to changes in the envi­ron­ment,” Walsh said. “And our abil­i­ty to char­ac­ter­ize that envi­ron­ment over time is what helps our men and women.”

As the Unit­ed States works with Japan to abate the cri­sis, Walsh said it’s draw­ing heav­i­ly on the ben­e­fits of their long, shared his­to­ry.

“There is noth­ing that can replace rela­tion­ships,” he said. “To have those estab­lished rela­tion­ships, whether work­ing with logis­tics or com­mu­ni­ca­tions or armed forces work­ing side by side, to have insight into what each other’s capa­bil­i­ties are, as well as what each other’s needs are, is very, very impor­tant.”

The com­plex­i­ty of the dis­as­ter in Japan — the earth­quake, then tsuna­mi, then radi­o­log­i­cal cri­sis — makes that foun­da­tion even more crit­i­cal, Walsh said.

“One of the lessons impor­tant to draw from this is how impor­tant it is to be armed with infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge,” he said, “and to under­stand the envi­ron­ment or bat­tle space in which we oper­ate, because if you don’t, then it can be very intim­i­dat­ing.”

Ulti­mate­ly, Walsh said, the lessons being learned dur­ing Oper­a­tion Tomodachi will pos­ture the U.S. mil­i­tary for future crises in the earth­quake-prone region known as the “Ring of Fire.”

“This is the ‘Ring of Fire’ and it keeps our head on a swiv­el,” he said. “We have to keep work­ing to under­stand what the envi­ron­ment is telling us and how to be pre­pared for it. I think it makes us bet­ter pre­pared as oper­a­tors in the long run.”

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

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