There's nothing worse than a tragedy hitting close to home - but sometimes being far away can be almost as painful.

For those in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Japanese Army-Spouse Support Group, the stress of being closely tied to disaster but too far away to lend a helping hand has become a part of daily life. But rather than sit idly by, the women have found their own way to aid their home country.
"From here, we can't do anything," President Miki York said. "We can't go back to Japan ... but what we can do is send money."

York and the other members of the group have been holding bake sales at the Lewis Main Exchange and McChord Exchange to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross. They donated 100 percent of their proceeds from the sales.

It's a natural step for the group, which York founded two years ago to help spouses from Japan adjust to life in the U.S. She came to what was then Fort Lewis in 2002, straight from Japan. At the time she didn't know anything about life in the States or life in the Army.

"I was alone, I had no friends," she said.

Eventually she found a Japanese church, learned to navigate the Army health-care system and deal with her husband's deployments while raising small children. But she knew that other spouses in similar situations were arriving all the time.

"It's difficult for us Japanese people to come here, away from our country," York said.

So she started the group, which is an authorized private organization on base, to help others like her. Now the group, which has about 30 regular members, is helping the people back home.

York's family is in Tokyo, away from the areas directly affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, but others in the group have friends and families missing or in shelters.

"It's chaos," she said.

In spite of it all, the tragedy has brought the group together and helped with another of their goals - getting spouses involved in their new communities.

Both York and Vice President Yoko Miani have been overwhelmed by the support from servicemembers and their families.

"We really appreciate it a lot, we feel like we're not alone," York said. "They care about us, and that makes us feel stronger to rebuild this country."

Having people nearby who served in Japan has helped, Miani said.

"You are relating to the feeling, so you want to donate more," she said.

After weeks of physical and emotional exhaustion, the group will take a break from the bake sales for now. They know that efforts to rebuild will be long-term, though, and will soon discussing ways to continue helping.

The group is open to spouses in all branches of the service and hopes to create network at other installations.

Anyone wanting to get involved in relief efforts or learn more about the group can e-mail japanesearmywivesupportgroup@gmail.com or visit their blog at http://jassg-ft-lewis-eng.blogspot.com/ (English version) or http://jassg-ft-lewis.blogspot.com/ (Japanese).

Marisa Petrich: marisa.petrich@us.army.mil

Page last updated Thu March 31st, 2011 at 00:00