PACIFIC OCEAN - Elements of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) combined efforts to restore power to Oshima Island, Japan, March 27.
Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), accompanied by JMSDF Capt. Masanori Ide, liaison officer for the bilateral crisis action team, used landing craft utility (LCU) vehicles assigned to Assault Craft Unit 1 (ACU-1) to deliver 15,000 pounds of relief supplies, including food, water, and health and comfort kits. In addition, the team transported commercial electric utility vehicles, a fuel truck, a water resupply vehicle and a civilian work crew all from the Tohoku Power Company.
Residents of Oshima, located off the eastern coast of Honshu, have been without power since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck Japan March 11.
Getting the vehicles and equipment to their intended destination proved to be a challenge, even before arriving on the island.
“This mission wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be,” said Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (SW/AW) Raoul Simms, LCU deck supervisor. “The vehicles were not made to come aboard an LCU. It took some strategy getting them onboard.”
ACU-1 also faced challenges with getting the LCU ashore, such as floating debris in the water. Instead of landing on a beach or ramp, as LCUs are designed to do, they pulled into a pier, which was a first for the crew. Despite these challenges, the mission proved successful.
“We were the link that was needed to provide the electrical vehicles and supplies for the Japanese workers in order to restore power back to the island,” said Quartermaster 2nd Class Miguel Thormes, LCU navigator. “Even though this mission wasn’t as safe as we would have hoped, it was definitely for a good cause.”
“This will help us to restore vital lifelines to Oshima from Kesennuma as soon as possible. Oshima island residents are suffering greatly,” said JSDF Maj. Shinya Takase, operations officer, 1st Division, 41st Infantry Regiment, in charge of disaster response in Kesennuma. “There is no electrical power at all. These vehicles will help them and help ease the situation. Japanese forces and Marines are doing very well in working through this together. At this moment, there is no other option to get these vehicles to Oshima. That is why we are so grateful for your help.”
By 5 p.m., power was restored to the island, providing residents with electricity for the first time in 16 days.
“The 41st infantry regiment of the Japan Self-Defense Force provided me with information that the moment power was restored, they heard cheers of joy from the local residents,” said Ide.
Senior military leaders from both countries expressed their gratitude to the Sailors and Marines who participated in the operation.
“Helping those in need went from being a priority to an enjoyment,” said Seaman John Tobler, LCU deck equipment operator. “Today, we gave them their hope back by showing we care to help them in their time of need.”
The 31st MEU and Essex ARG didn’t just bring supplies to the island, but also brought hope, now that residents can feel that they are connected with the world again, said Ide.
“It’s good to do something of substance,” said Simms. “We made a significant impact in their lives today.”
Currently, 19 ships, 133 aircraft and 18,165 personnel of the Fleet are operating in support of Operation Tomodachi. Since the operation started, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 240 tons of HA/DR supplies to survivors of the tsunami and earthquake, in support of Japan Self Defense Force efforts.