CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The return of open-post events, a new senior enlisted leader and the realignment of military police units were among the stories that impacted U.S. Army Garrison Japan this past year.
Below is a roundup of some of the most notable stories in the community:
As COVID-19 restrictions loosened, annual open-post events returned to allow community members to gather alongside thousands of Japanese guests.
The first event to be held was the Independence Day celebration, which last occurred in 2019. The anticipation led to a higher than expected attendance, as more than 25,000 people flocked to Camp Zama to celebrate America’s birthday with live music, games, food and a fireworks display.
About a month later, the installation held its Bon Odori festival, which drew nearly 20,000 people. The event allowed participants to wear traditional “yukatas” and perform folk dances as part of the holiday that honors the departed spirits of one’s ancestors.
In early October, about 7,000 people then came to Sagami General Depot for a half-marathon and festival that had food, musical performances, children’s games as well as a 16-kilometer “ekiden,” or relay race.
New senior enlisted leader
The USAG Japan community bid farewell to Command Sgt. Maj. Justin E. Turner in early December, while welcoming Command Sgt. Maj. David A. Rio as the new garrison’s senior enlisted leader.
Rio assumed responsibility from Turner, who had served in the position since December 2020, during a ceremony at Camp Zama.
The change-of-responsibility ceremony included its own Japanese tradition as well. When Turner first assumed responsibility two years ago, he painted one eye of a Japanese “daruma” doll, a tradition that involves asking for the fulfillment of a wish or goal. During the recent ceremony, he painted in the other eye, signifying that his goal had been achieved.
Turner moved on to his next assignment at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he will serve as the command sergeant major of the Soldier Support Institute, which oversees the schools for human resources, finance and music.
USAG Japan won its first-ever Commander’s Cup title for its performance in the 2021-2022 intramural sports season, including first-place wins in four season-long events.
The yearlong competition consisted of 26 different sports and athletic activities — 14 individual events, six one-day team events and six regular-season sports events — in addition to four post-season tournaments.
U.S. Army Japan leadership awarded the cup to USAG Japan team members during a ceremony in June. The ceremony also recognized winners in several fitness events held at Camp Zama during Army Week, which celebrated the Army’s birthday.
Military police units fall under garrison
More than 50 military police Soldiers officially changed their uniform patch after a July ceremony at Camp Zama that signified their move to USAG Japan.
Both the 88th and 901st Military Police Detachments, the latter of which specializes in military working dogs, realigned from the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
While his unit’s U.S. Army Japan patch changed to the U.S. Army Materiel Command patch, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Thomas, detachment sergeant for the 88th MP Det., assured community members after the ceremony that their mission would not.
The realignment will even allow the units to work more closely with the garrison’s Directorate of Emergency Services, Thomas added.
Intern program sees largest participation
The summer internship program continued to grow as its latest iteration saw more than 20 Japanese university students graduate in September after working closely with American and Japanese staff at Camp Zama.
The monthlong program, which was created in 2013 and organized by USAG Japan Public Affairs, provides students the chance to experience an American environment and hone their English skills with native speakers.
Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson, commander of USAG Japan, presented certificates to the interns during their graduation ceremony. In his remarks, he said the participation, which included students from 11 universities and 19 workplaces, was the most successful year in the history of the program.
Community cleanup efforts
Volunteers from the Camp Zama community teamed up with Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members and local organizations to conduct several cleanup events throughout the year.
Some of the most significant events were the Sagami River cleanups. In late October, Camp Zama participants joined Sagamihara City, Zama City and JGSDF volunteers in one of the river cleanups as part of a new initiative that allows the organizations to combine efforts as community partners, with each one taking turns hosting events.
Cleanup events also included beautifying local parks, where volunteers from the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, Boy Scouts, military units and other Camp Zama groups helped pull weeds and plant flowers alongside Japanese volunteers.
Army recruiting office returns to Camp Zama
An Army recruiting office reopened earlier this year at Camp Zama to better support potential recruits on mainland Japan following a decade-long hiatus.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Blowers, the lone recruiter at the office, said it was revived due to more interest at locations across Honshu.
He described the office as a one-stop shop that guides potential recruits through the entire enlistment process, since there is no nearby military entrance processing station.
One of the recruits included Ke’Shaun Joell, son of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Keith Joell, an information services technician for 35th CSSB.
In a full-circle moment, Keith had the opportunity to administer the oath of enlistment to Ke’Shaun at the recruiting office in July. Almost 20 years before, Keith enlisted into the Army at Camp Zama when Ke’Shaun was a newborn baby.
IMCOM-Pacific leadership visits Japan
U.S. Army Installation Management Command – Pacific leadership held a town hall and met with community members in April, as part of their weeklong tour of Army installations in Japan.
Craig L. Deatrick and Command Sgt. Maj. Jason R. Copeland, the director and senior enlisted leader for IMCOM-Pacific, respectively, led the closed-door town hall, which garrison leadership did not attend to promote an open dialogue.
In the meeting, Deatrick presented a career roadmap aimed at helping civilians climb the ladder. Touting the Army’s top priority of placing people first, Deatrick discussed several self-development programs, such as Civilian Education System courses, available to Army civilians and Japanese local nationals.
He said training and experience are both vital to developing the workforce in the Army as he addressed a crowd of about 100 entry- and mid-level U.S. and Japanese civilians at the Camp Zama Community Club.
Both leaders also toured Sagami General Deport and Yokohama North Dock during their visit.