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"Tomodochi" - Soldiers from Fort Bragg support Japan Earthquake recovery

June 6, 2011

By Lt. Col. Hillary Luton, U.S. Army Forces Command Public Affairs (Forward)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (June 3, 2011) -- On March 12, the world watched in disbelief as news reports surfaced of an 8.9 earthquake that rocked Japan.

We quickly learned the earthquake was minor compared to what was still heading towards the Japanese shores. The tsunami that followed rolled across the Pacific at 500 mph and untold millions of gallons of water thundered over areas of Japan, washing away homes, farms, and lives.

Capt. Daniel Hill, commander of the 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, was ordered to create an ad hoc unit of eight Soldiers and fly to Japan to provide public affairs support to the Soldiers already working there as part of the clean up and recovery operations.

The detachment supported Operation Tomodochi, which is Japanese for Friendship. Hill says the response by the U.S. Army was incredible and spoke “volumes of our dedication to our allies and our humanitarian support capabilities.”

He noted that as soon as the need was identified, military logistics and support entities moved into action and established relief operations.

Support for the population included providing kerosene for heat and cooking, and setting up showers. Soldiers helped a local school that had been destroyed by the tsunami by handing out to the children 5,000 backpacks filled with blankets, winter clothing, and snacks . The smiles of these children broadened as their school was restored and classes resumed.

Hill stated as he flew over the countryside in a helicopter, "the view of Japan...was a devastated landscape, with little or no hope of a quick recovery." He went on to say that it appeared everything had been destroyed and that no amount of support would help Japan recover. Once he walked the grounds, he realized what an impact this operation would have on the Soldiers who supported the cleanup. His view made his hope for the populace dim. "It seemed as their lives had been shattered and the people broken," he said.

When he had the opportunity to meet some of the Japanese people, Hill's view changed as he realized what this culture was capable of doing and how resilient they were.

The Soldiers would help by shoveling and removing debris by day. The evenings took on another light as Soldiers and civilians danced to the music of the U.S. Army's 296th Army Band from Camp Zama. Hill said he and his Soldiers had the opportunity to share laughs with the civilians and learn about native cuisine.

"The quick response by the U.S. Army and the resiliency of the Japanese people to work together, made a lasting impact and strengthened the bonds with our Japanese allies," he said.

Hill concluded by saying said that the experience has changed his view of the ability of people to come together for the greater good. "The friendship of the Japanese people kept me smiling," he said. "The hard work, dedication and caring of the U.S. servicemembers impressed me and reinforced why I am so proud to be a Soldier."

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