TORII STATION, Okinawa Prefecture -- Japanese first responders teamed up with the various services on Okinawa Feb. 17, to participate in a simulated aircraft mishap exercise at Torii Station designed to review procedures for responding to an off-base incident, while deepening mutual understanding and cooperation between the allied nations.
The scene was set on a crisp afternoon as the notional scenario played out. A military aircraft crashes, crew members eject into the sea before impact while others lie helplessly near the wreckage. Japanese citizens on the ground are also injured by the debris.
"This is a great opportunity for both the Japanese and U.S. military emergency responders to work together so that we are prepared to handle an emergency if one arises," said Col. David DeTata, Chief, Okinawa Area Field Office. "We learn a great deal not only by conducting exercises like this, but by simply working alongside one another. We are working together to make Okinawa a safer place to live and work," he said.
The enhanced cooperation and interoperability between various agencies, both Japanese and U.S., has solidified in the past five years since this sort of exercise first began in response to a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter incident. All branches of the U.S. military participate in the annual exercise along with the Japanese Emergency Response Team, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Okinawa Defense Bureau, Prefectural Police and Coast Guard alongside local police and fire personnel.
"The purpose of this training exercise is to continue to improve coordination between Japanese and U.S. military emergency response agencies," said Lt. Col. Eric Martinez, Commander, U.S. Army Garrison - Okinawa. By conducting this annual exercise at Torii Station, we improve the interoperability and communication between participating agencies, increasing readiness and effectiveness," he said.
Martinez went on to say that preparation and mutual cooperation is invaluable when the need to respond arises.
"We are thankful to the Okinawan people for their patience, understanding and contribution to this exercise and others like it. We are committed to training opportunities that help increase our ability to keep the Okinawan community safe," he said.
For the Director of Crisis Management in Okinawa, Hidehiko Fujino, the training exercise is a reminder to hope for the best, while preparing for the worst.
"It is our common understanding that the accident should not be happening, however it is also very important to prepare ourselves in the worst case of scenario," he said.
In a prepared statement, the director laid out his four major takeaways for the exercise as being: safety for those who are injured, the ability to effectively conduct fire fighting procedures, the proper establishment of an inner and outer cordon and maintaining the valuable bilateral lines of communication.
"As you can see, in this FTX, the prompt and smooth initial response by handling the situation and preventing an increase in the damage was conducted with Japan-U.S. cooperation," said Fujino. "It was very meaningful for us to gain a further understanding of the specific activities and rolls when the accident occurs."
Fujino said that he looks forward to continuing the bilateral exercises to enhance cooperation between allies.