WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 29, 2011) -- U.S. servicemembers have been working jointly and around the clock with Japanese Self-Defense Forces since mid-March to help the nation get back on its feet following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami there.

At the request of the Japanese government, disaster and relief assistance codenamed Operation Tomodachi, was launched three days after the earthquake and tsunami. The land component portion of that operation is led by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, who also serves as commander of the Third Marine Division.

"It's a terrible tragedy what's happened in Japan, but for us and our military and the way we do business, this just affirms that the course that's been charted as far as joint operations -- the complimentary capabilities, the expeditionary nature of the Marine Corps, the global reach of the Air Force, the deep capabilities of the Army and our Navy's ability to operate anywhere comes together to create a great capability, whether it's for a war fight or for doing good like we're doing here in northeast Honshu," he said via telephone, March 28.

The Army component of Operation Tomodachi includes Soldiers from the 35th Combat Support and Sustainment Battalion, along with the 10th Support Group, 83rd Ordnance, 505th Quartermaster Battalion, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces.

The task force, based out of Torii Station, Okinawa, has been serving as a humanitarian logistics hub at Sendai International Airport providing cargo transload, debris removal, sling-load rigging and delivering toys to children.

To date, the Soldiers have cleared more than 2,300 vehicles from Sendai International Airport and delivered 140 drums of kerosene as well as clothing, shoes, blankets and hygiene kits to evacuees.

Brilakis said one of the great stories that have characterized Operation Tomodachi was getting Sendai International operational within five days of the disaster. The airport was completely devastated by the tsunami which left it covered in silt and underwater. The terminal building and power grid were also damaged, as were navigation aids and refueling capability.

The general said Japanese authorities weren't quite sure how, when, or if the airport would ever get back in shape.

"An Air Force special operations team that was doing airfield surveys for us was sent up there," Brilakis said. "They took a look at it, broke out the shovels and a couple of other pieces of gear and cleared the runway long enough for a C-130 to land on."

From there, the civil aeronautics bureau and representatives from airport management found a construction company and civilians to assist in expanding airport capabilities.

"We brought in Marines and Soldiers and they've been working nonstop for about a week," Brilakis added. "It's just incredible. Every day they make great strides and five days into their work we were able to make the airfield C-17 capable, and just yesterday I learned the second runway is almost completely cleared, so that is a tangible sign of progress for this nation, a sign of recovery that everybody is rallying around."