By CPT Erol Munir, 1st Space CompanyMay 10, 2011
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- On March 11, a 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan and shook Misawa Air Base for several minutes. Almost immediately afterwards, the 'giant voice' on base began to warn of an impending tsunami. Picture frames fell off the walls of homes, personal belongings fell off shelves and the power went out. Luckily, no one was injured or hurt.
At the time the earthquake and tsunami struck, the base was in the middle of conducting a readiness exercise and was therefore already perfectly postured to respond. The first priority was to conduct a damage assessment and full accountability of personnel. Soldiers, airmen, and sailors from the base responded quickly and professionally to meet the task at hand. Announcements continued to be broadcasted over the giant voice, and an Emergency Family Assistance Control Center was established at the community center. Generators were used to power key agencies on the base, and everywhere else, people huddled together by candlelight.
The first few weeks after the earthquake and tsunami were chaotic. Power was restored to the majority of the base within a week and slowly things starting getting back to normal. However, there was still the stress of continued aftershocks and the developing situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant which resulted in unease amongst the base population. The Department of State announced a Voluntary Departure of Dependents to safe havens in the United States and a large percentage of spouses and children boarded planes to go home.
Throughout this stressful time, the Soldiers of Delta Detachment continued to flawlessly perform their vital strategic missile warning mission. Despite their already rigorous schedule, they continuously sought opportunities to help the local community and make a difference. On March 15 and 18, Joint Tactical Ground Station Soldiers volunteered to conduct a tactical vehicle convoy to the Japanese town of Ofunato (150 miles south of Misawa) to deliver vital supplies to USAID search and rescue teams.
Since then, Soldiers from JTAGS Japan have continuously supported "clean up" missions in Operation Tomodachi. Tomodachi means friendship in Japanese. They have gone to numerous local areas along the coast where there has been unprecedented devastation and donated more than 400 hours cleaning debris from where the tsunami wave made contact with land.
Although it has been nearly two months since the earthquake and tsunami, JTAGS Soldiers continue to volunteer their time and help as much as they can. They are scheduled to take an overnight trip to the village of Tanohata and help clear debris from damaged homes and buildings.
Author's note: As I near the end of my command time here in Japan, I have never been prouder of the Soldiers I lead. They have shown courage and humility in the face of disaster and proven that our Soldiers are the finest in the world.
Editor's note: Capt. Erol Munir is the commander of D Detachment, 1st Space Company, 1st Space Brigade, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.