WHEN DISASTER STRIKES: U.S. ARMY SOLDIERS IN JAPAN OFFER EXPERTISE DURING SHIZOKA PREFECTURE COMPREHENSIVE DISASTER DRILL
KAKEGAWA, Japan – Swirling sand obscures the sunlit sky as a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter touches down on a freshly cut baseball field. Mere moments pass before the Huey’s Japan Ground Self-Defense Force crew chief dismounts from his metallic steed and sprints toward four U.S. Army Soldiers bearing a stretcher. The crew chief’s commanding shout cuts through the roar of rotor blades, springing his American partners into action. With swift, expert precision, the stretcher bearers carry their wounded comrade—a mannequin sporting an Army Combat Uniform—to the Huey.
Casualty evacuation was one of the many training missions orchestrated during Shizuoka Prefecture’s annual Comprehensive Disaster Drill conducted here Sept. 4, 2016. The drill demonstrated the emergency response capabilities of a diverse collection of local, regional, national and international organizations. Its static displays, interactive classes and practical workshops conducted throughout Kakegawa also provided lifesaving lessons for the city’s citizens.
“The people of Shizuoka Prefecture have organized this annual exercise for 35 years,” said Yuka Ogura, a supervisor for the prefectural government’s Emergency Countermeasures Division. “Although the drill’s size and scope has become increasingly complex with the inclusion of specialized government agencies and advanced equipment, the individual residents play the most pivotal role in preparing for the worst.”
Among the participants stood a dozen Soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Japan, I Corps (Forward) and Public Health Command-Pacific. The group packed two Humvees with fuel, rations and medical supplies before embarking on their 120-mile journey from Camp Zama to Kakegawa.
“The U.S. Army has actively participated in this drill since 2010,” said Maj. Donald Kim, U.S. Army liaison officer for to the JGSDF's Eastern Army and Central Readiness Force. “It demonstrates our capabilities in humanitarian response assistance by testing our troops’ expertise in first aid, supply distribution, convoy operations and medical evacuation. Our participation also sends a strong message to our Japanese partners that we are willing and able to provide immediate support when disaster strikes.”
“Since the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami [in 2011], local communities have a greater understanding and openness to collaborate with international agencies in the aftermath of a major disaster,” added Ogura. “The U.S. Army has proved on many occasions that it has the talent and resources to respond to any emergency in the country.”
Throughout the exercise, the American Soldiers worked closely with their Japan Ground Self-Defense Force partners from the 34th Infantry Regiment, Eastern Army, JGSDF. The respective units set up their base of operations at a local gym where they combined resources to coordinate convoy routes, establish mobile communication sites, and set up supply distribution points.
“The JGSDF and U.S. Army have specialized equipment and highly trained personnel that many of our civilian counterparts cannot afford,” said JGSDF Sgt. 1st Class Miura Hatoshi, a squad leader in the 2nd Company, 34th Infantry Regiment. “However, these assets are practically worthless if we don’t properly use them. That’s why it’s essential that we seize every opportunity to train together so we may make the right decisions together.”
The drill concluded with a closing ceremony at a demolished neighborhood used as a training site for search, rescue and recovery operations. Standing alongside hundreds of service members, firefighters, police officers and first responders, Heita Kawakatsu, governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, expressed his appreciation for the American participants.
“The citizens of Shizuoka Prefecture and I are grateful for the support from the U.S. Army and Marines,” said Kawakatsu. “Your skill and professionalism were second only to your care and compassion.”
As the troops shook hands and exchanged small tokens of appreciation with their gracious hosts, Kim reflected on his team’s immense effort, energy and enthusiasm.
“I’m proud of these men,” said Kim. “Many of them have Military Occupation Specialties far separated from the desired skillsets for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. However, their proficiency in their basic warrior tasks and their eagerness to learn from the experts shows our Japanese partners that they can count on us anytime, anywhere.”
Photo by Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV, U.S. Army Japan