Japan Tragedy: As in Haiti, as Anywhere and Anytime, the U.S. Military Steps up to the Plate (UPDATES)

UPDATE, March 17

From the Stars and Stripes:

U.S. military personnel have delivered 40 tons of supplies to the hardest-hit areas of Japan, as humanitarian aid continues in the face of an ever-increasing threat from the failing Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

The U.S. 7th Fleet reported that aircraft from the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group flew 15 sorties Wednesday, delivering food, water, clothing, medical supplies and blankets to parts of Japan affected by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.

Meanwhile, high-pressure water pumps were offloaded from USNS Safeguard at Yokosuka Naval Base and delivered to the Yokota Air Base for use at the Fukushima power plant. Four additional pumps were delivered from Sasebo Naval Base.

The Reagan carrier group is continuing humanitarian missions off the east coast of Honshu and will be joined by the cruiser USS Cowpens.

In the meantime, the USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, entered the Sea of Japan on Wednesday and “will take position off the coast of Sakata on the western coast of Honshu to begin disaster response operations …Once in place, one of the group’s primary missions will be to assist in the reopening of Sendai airport for operation.”

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For more real time updates by Stars and Stripes reporters, please click here.

UPDATE, March 16, 2011

The U.S, military continues to “converge on Japan” to provide humanitarian assistance to its disaster-stricken people.

But in doing so, the military are monitoring the winds very carefully and moving ships and aircraft as necessary “to avoid the wind line from the Fukushima Power Plant,” in order to avoid exposing service members to radiation leaking from the crippled power plant.

According to U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis, “Aircraft and aircrews returning from missions ashore are being monitored carefully for contamination, and are conducting decontamination procedures as necessary when it is detected.”

Nevertheless, the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group flew 29 sorties Tuesday, delivering 17 tons of supplies — including food, water and blankets — to hard-hit areas of northeastern Japan.

From the Stars and Stripes:

The strike group, which is continuing operations Wednesday off the east coast of Honshu, includes the cruiser USS Chancellorsville; destroyer USS Preble; combat support ship USNS Bridge; along with guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald, USS John S. McCain, USS McCampbell and USS Curtis Wilbur.

An additional destroyer, USS Mustin, is at sea south of the disaster site.

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The USS Tortuga, with two heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters embarked, picked up about 300 Japan Ground Self-Defense Force personnel and 90 vehicles Tuesday in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, and was scheduled to deliver them to Ominato, on the island of Honshu.

…the USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, continue en route to the area and are expected Thursday.

Also,

Two III MEF KC-130s based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Japan flew forklifts, life support systems and personnel to Yamagata Airfield, which has been chosen as a site for a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), according to a Marine Corps press release.

Additional flights are scheduled.

Additional FARP sites have been identified in Sendai and Hanamaki to increase the flexibility of U.S. and Japanese relief efforts, and planning efforts are underway to establish FARPs at these airfields as soon as possible, the release stated.

The earthquake and tsunami are also directly affecting our military members and their families in Japan.

Again, the Stars and Stripes:

Shortages of fuel oil caused by the widespread destruction from the earthquake and tsunami might force some military community members who live off base to seek shelter on the base, an official said.

Col. Michael Rothstein, commander of the 35th Fighter Wing, has asked his staff to find accommodations for those who run out of heating oil in their off-base homes. Options could include housing them in vacant units on the base.

The deadly quake and tsunamis that ravaged hundreds of miles of coastline in northeastern Japan disrupted resupply lines for the region. Officials from the Aomori Oil Commercial Society, an organization for gasoline retail outlets in the prefecture, said supplies of gasoline and heating oil have been scarce since the earthquake.

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The air base lost electricity and phone communication when Japan’s largest recorded earthquake hit. Base officials immediately launched recovery efforts, setting up generators, offering free phone calls to the States, and staffing an emergency sleep area in the Potter Fitness Center.

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Officials also said that various spouse groups on the base want to begin meeting with members of the community to work through issues and to give them a chance to interact…

Rothstein said that since the base is on pretty steady footing, the priority now turns to what the U.S. military is calling “Operation Tomodachi,” helping the Japanese communities hardest hit by the quake, tsunami and hundreds of aftershocks.

“Five, 10, 50 years from now, you’ll remember being boots on the ground,” helping the Japanese with their relief efforts, he said during a command briefing.

And as relief efforts continue, he wants Misawa airmen to be ready for any tasking they’re given

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Original Post:

As is usual in most international disasters, the United States of America leads the world in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of those disasters. And, as always, the U.S. military spearheads such relief efforts. As I wrote in a series of articles here at TMV, the U.S. military did so admirably well during the Haiti tragedy and is doing so already in the wake of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

The following are headlines and excerpts about some of these efforts that have appeared in various publications during the past 48 hours.

Sign On San Diego reports that the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan has been deployed in the Pacific Ocean near Japan:

The Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that accommodates more than 5,000 sailors, is about 100 miles offshore is being used as a refueling station, a supply warehouse and a launchpad for helicopters engaged in deliveries and search-and-rescue missions…

In all, three Navy vessels based in San Diego are now off the Japanese coast for a massive humanitarian mission involving numerous ships.

…Navy pilots have been searching for survivors, landing in villages with water, blankets, food and questions about what else may be needed, and flying from sunup to sundown over a country that seems alternately peaceful and pummeled.

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The Navy said Monday the Reagan and 17 military personnel flying helicopter runs in the area came into contact with low levels of radiation from one of the damaged nuclear power plants in Japan, but Norris and Ackerman said the potential for nuclear radiation is not a concern for them. They said the pilots’ biggest risks involve accounting for winds coming out of the nearby mountains, avoiding downed power lines and trees, and finding stable ground to land their helicopters.

Reuters reports the latest details from the Pentagon on the “mobilization of American forces that will see the U.S. military ferry humanitarian aid, evacuate survivors and assist Japanese troops grappling with Japan’s worst crisis since World War Two.”:

SHIPS OPERATING OFF JAPAN

* The USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which includes the cruiser USS Chancellorsville, the destroyer USS Preble and the combat support ship USNS Bridge, is conducting operations off the east coast of Honshu and is now about 180 nautical miles away from the Fukushima nuclear complex.

* The guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald, USS John S. McCain, USS McCampbell and USS Curtis Wilbur are in the same area.

* USS Mustin (DDG 89) is at sea south of the disaster site.

AIR OPERATIONS

* Air operations on Monday included 10 helicopters from Naval Air Facility Atsugi and USS Ronald Reagan identifying several groups of people in need of assistance in the vicinity of Minato, and delivering water, blankets and food. Additional helicopters conducted surveys of the at-sea debris field, and conducted search and rescue missions along the coastline.

* U.S. Navy P-3 “Orion” aircraft flew two missions to survey and assess the debris field at sea.

SHIPS DUE TO ARRIVE

* USS Tortuga, an amphibious dock landing ship, loaded two heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters on Saturday in South Korea. It will arrive on the Japanese island of Hokkaido on Tuesday where it will pick up 300 Japan Ground Self Defense Force personnel and 90 vehicles bring them to Aomori, Japan.

* USS Essex, a large amphibious assault ship, had just arrived in Malaysia when the tsunami hit. It got underway on Saturday en route to the east coast of Honshu and is expected to arrive around March 16.

* USS Blue Ridge, the U.S. Seventh Fleet command ship which the Navy describes as “the most capable command ship ever built,” had just arrived in Singapore when the tsunami hit. It immediately changed its focus to loading humanitarian assistance/disaster relief equipment. It departed Singapore on Saturday en route to the east coast of Honshu and is expected to arrive as soon as March 16.

* USS Harpers Ferry, a dock landing ship based in Sasebo, Japan, and the USS Germantown, an amphibious dock landing ship home-ported in San Diego, California, have been redirected to Japan from locations in Southeast Asia. Both were described as at least a couple days away.

The Stars and Stripes reports on Marine Corps aircraft and personnel departing Okinawa to assist in the humanitarian effort:

Relief support from Okinawa continued Monday afternoon as three Marine Corps C-130J cargo planes departed here bound for Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

One of the cargo planes that departed for Atsugi was packed with pallets of generators, fuel containers, water and fuel containers, air conditioners, communication gear, as well as 30 Marines from 7th Communications Battalion.

The Marines were to set up a new command post for III Marine Expeditionary Forces Forward Command Element at Atsugi, officials said.

We’ll keep you posted on the humanitarian work by the U.S. military in Japan.

Image: Courtesy upi.com

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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