By Ms. Michelle Harlan (USASAC)April 8, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - Ninety-six students sat on the library floor watching the projection of an animated map showing different sized circles, all correlating to the magnitude of an earthquake's strength. Sporadically, small circles appeared on screen until a large, blue circle covered the entire map, followed quickly by additional smaller circles.
The animation stopped after a span of 72 hours had passed. In total, 243 earthquakes were shown hitting Japan for one weekend in March 2011, ranging from 4.6 to 6.8 on the Richter scale and sometimes as close as one minute apart. The largest earthquake to hit the country in history struck at 2:46 p.m. local time March 11, 2011: a 9.0 earthquake 231 miles off the coast of Japan. Approximately an hour later, a 30-foot wave wall tsunami developed from the earthquake's force, reaching heights of 130 feet in some locations once inland. There are 15,884 confirmed deaths and 2,636 people still remain missing on this year's third anniversary of the event.
The earthquake, and resulting tsunami that followed, still affect the country to this day. Whether from debris lined streets, people displaced, destroyed roads, homes and businesses swept from their foundations or the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown, the country is still dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.
Theodore Kubista, a country program manager for the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, relayed these facts and described his personal experience on a recent Friday afternoon at a local middle school.
Whitney Andrews, the seventh-grade geography teacher at Randolph School, invited Kubista to share his story with students as part of an education outreach program.
"It is my personal philosophy that it's one thing to learn about a place and events, but it's quite another to experience it directly," Andrews said. "So often in social studies classrooms we focus on the 'what happened' aspect of events that we lose some of the human element and personal perspective that creates empathy and passion for others."
At the time of the earthquake, Kubista was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Japan. Japan is one of the most earthquake prone countries, and they have systems in place to decrease their effects. However, on March 11, 2011, they experienced a once in a century earthquake, coupled with a massive tsunami.
According to the U.S. Geology Survey, the force of the earthquake moved Japan eight feet closer to the United States and shifted the earth on its axis.
Kubista shared with the students how the Japanese will determine where and when to rebuild devastated portions of their country. He explained that the Japanese are very deliberate in their planning processes, and they factor-in almost everything before they commence anything.
"While it might seem slow to us as Americans, they do not consider it that way," he said. "They take a much longer view of things."
One of the major takeaway points Kubista wanted the students to have was the incredibly strong relationship between the U.S. and Japan. While the American Embassy did execute a voluntary evacuation of all nonessential personnel, some embassies closed soon after the Tohoku earthquake, and that point was not lost on the Japanese people.
"We stayed for our friends, to help," Kubista said. "While other countries left, we stuck by our allies and we are still there today supporting them."
The importance of a strong relationship between the U.S. and Japan is a point all-too familiar to Kubista since leaving the Embassy and joining USASAC to work on the Army's Foreign Military Sales program. USASAC is responsible for managing security assistance programs for our country's foreign partners, to include materiel, facilities, spare parts, training, publications, technical documentation, maintenance support and other services that the Army Materiel Command provides to Army units.
"We have a seamless relationship," he said. "We could immediately give them assistance and support because we were already in the country with decades of experience of training side-by-side with them and using the same equipment."
Andrews hoped Kubista's presentation would provide the students an eye-opening experience with a desire to learn more about the events of Japan. She believes the presentation was worthwhile to students and plans presentations with Kubista for upcoming classes.
"It was as close to personal experience as many of my students can have," she said.