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JSDF, 3rd MEB prepare, train for disasters

9 Sep 2013 | Lance Cpl. Terence Brady

TOGAMI SPORTS FIELDS, Japan - Members of the Japan Self-Defense Force, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and U.S. Forces Japan conducted the 2013 Shizuoka Disaster Preparedness Drill Sept. 1 at Togami Sports Field in Shizuoka prefecture, Japan.

The annual drill is a prefecture-wide natural-disaster planning and preparation exercise designed to improve community, military and government readiness for humanitarian crises similar to the 1923 Tokyo earthquake or the Great East Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011.

“Approximately every 150 years, there is a major earthquake in the Shizuoka prefecture, and there are always other potential disasters pending,” said Capt. Ralph E. Lemaster, a current operations officer with 3rd MEB, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “We provided logistics on our disaster response capabilities to the local government and showed them hands-on equipment such as tactical aircraft and vehicles.”

The event marked the second year Marines have participated in the drill, showing strong support for mutual preparation and the importance of interoperability.

“Last year, we sent a smaller humanitarian assistance survey team to observe the drill and evaluate where we would fit in and how we could help the community,” said Maj. Eric J. Mattson, the III MEF Japan observer exchange program officer. “We brought tactical vehicles from Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji to give the community an idea of the capacity of supplies and equipment our vehicles can handle during a disaster event.”

The coordination during the exercise strengthened the two forces’ relationship and improved interoperability, according to Mattson.
“This year, we were able to land military aircraft at the airport to maneuver to the drill site,” said Mattson. “This shows how serious the local government and community are taking this training, and it attests to how strong our bond has become.”

Heita Kawakatsu, the Shizuoka prefectural governor, attended the event and stressed the importance of the community’s ability to plan and prepare, as well as accepting support from the JSDF and U.S. military.

“It is crucial that you plan and take care of yourself, as ensuring self-sufficiency will make it easier for the humanitarian effort to help those in need,” said Kawakatsu. “We hope that planning at the community level will help humanitarian efforts like Operation Tomodachi become faster and more efficient.

Kawakatsu also discussed the roles of the military and how humanitarian assistance is only part of its mission and having community support helps the military accomplish this.

“The function of the military is first to be combat ready, and then ready to aid those in need,” said Kawakatsu. “While they are here to help the community, we must also be ready to help them, as well as support ourselves during natural disasters.”

The optimism and the coordination between the community, the government and the military reinforced the participants’ strength and readiness, said Mattson.

“Training like this is important because it shows where everyone’s mind-set is in regards to the seriousness of potential disasters,” said Mattson. “If everyone is ready to work together, we can make the relief efforts even more successful.”