18th Wing participates in Okinawa disaster drill
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- For the first time ever, the 18th Wing participated in a bilateral disaster response exercise alongside Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Okinawa Prefectural Government at Atta Port Sept. 5.
The exercise gave participants and spectators an understanding of how the 82 separate entities from U.S. military, JSDF, and local emergency responders work together to save lives in the wake of devastation from a natural disaster in the region.
"I would like to express my appreciation to all the organizations that participated in the 2015 OPG disaster drill, which took hours in this high temperature," said Okinawa Prefectural Governor Takeshi Onaga during his closing remarks after the drill. "Okinawa is hit by many typhoons every year. These cause floods, damage houses and cause other destruction. I appreciate the people of the organizations participating in today's exercise, working hard in their daily training to ensure the safety of local residents."
The training, which has been conducted several times annually already, has previously involved U.S. Marine Corps personnel and equipment from around the island, but this is the first time Japanese aircraft have used Kadena's runways as a reception point for JSDF responders from Honshu, or mainland Japan.
The scenario centered on the evacuation and rescue of Okinawa inhabitants following a deadly tsunami hitting the island's eastern coast.
In the event Naha Airport, Okinawa's and local Japan Air Self-Defense Forces' main transportation hub capable of accepting large aircraft, is rendered incapable of accepting additional aircraft due to damage or limited resources, disaster response would be limited should a tsunami strike.
Therefore, using a U.S. military flight line like Kadena is the best alternative option for ensuring the safe delivery of response personnel, supplies and aid equipment to survivors. That's why Col. Debra Lovette, 18th Mission Support Group commander, said it's vital to include all possible component organizations.
"This one is especially important; it's the Okinawa Prefectural Government's disaster response exercise, and it's one that they do annually," Lovette said. "Not only does it involve the civilian side of Okinawa, it involves entities from the military installations that are on Okinawa, because you can imagine with disaster response, we all have a part to play."
The exercise kicked off with a simulated disaster notification. Shortly after, JSDF P-3C and aircraft from mainland Japan landed on Kadena's runway, unloading personnel and vehicles destined for Atta Port.
Like the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck Japan in 2011, Lovette said the U.S. military would no-doubt have a hand in relief efforts, making the exercise all the more important in the event Okinawa ever sees similar circumstances.
"Obviously typhoons, earthquakes, tsunami, and the follow on impact of earthquakes are highly probable in this area - more probable than other natural disasters," Lovette said. "It's actually really a great invitation this year from Governor Onaga, and I'd like to express our appreciation for the invitation to be involved. We obviously have capabilities resident on Kadena that can be useful in disaster response exercise, and the more that we integrate and practice together, the better we're going to be at it whenever it is called for."
Lovette said that not only does she hope Kadena is invited to join future exercises, she hopes to further integrate into the scenario.
"I think in the future, having greater involvement will probably help us understand what capabilities exist in the civilian sector and what capabilities we can actually provide," she said. "Obviously there's going to be such things as language barriers, perhaps some interoperability with equipment - things like that - that I think we could probably get better at doing, but for the most part, our involvement this year allowed us to understand how many entities are involved in something like this, so it improves our communication with all those organizations in such an event."