Bilateral partnership opens eyes to opportunities
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- As the blue bus pulled up to where I was waiting, my heartbeat quickened in nervous anticipation of the eight Japan Air Self Defense Force members who would be this year's NCO Bilateral Exchange partners.
Coordinated annually by Senior Master Sgt. Rob Miller, 718th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent, the JASDF NCO Bilateral Exchange program pairs up JASDF NCOs with Kadena NCOs in similar career fields for about 10 days each year.
This year, there was a JASDF General Affairs NCO, which is a job similar to U.S. Air Force Public Affairs, and I was asked to be his counterpart. As I noticed the 6-foot-plus-tall NCO when he got off the bus, little did I know he was none other than my partner, Staff Sgt. Osamu Ogura.
I was so thankful when he said during introductions that he was nervous too! I think we all were at first, wanting to make good first impressions and overcome some of the language and culture barriers.
After an initial lunch and wing mission briefing, the eight exchange teams were released to their duty sections. Ogura was thrown right into PA operations, as our weekly staff meeting was occurring when we returned to the PA office. He introduced himself, pronouncing his first name as O-sahm-u. He was then given a nickname and was known to everyone as "Sergeant Awesome."
We spent a lot of time working together, talking about the differences and similarities in our jobs. As the NCO in charge of the PA photojournalism section, a lot of what I do is planning, scheduling, editing and managing, which didn't seem like much for me to show him.
Then he told me about the responsibilities of NCOs at his home station, and how in awe he was of my responsibilities and the duties of the other NCOs in my office. The U.S. Air Force has high expectations of all its Airmen as we embody our core value of Excellence in All We Do, and it was humbling to hear we were doing it right.
I also ensured he saw a little bit of all public affairs is responsible for, as he joined a community relations base tour, accompanied Airmen on story assignments, witnessed crisis communication in action during a bilateral field training exercise, and visited the Armed Forces Network detachment on the island.
The exchange wasn't all work, however, as we shared many lunches together and a few dinners, including dinner at my home with my husband and two sons. Ogura and my oldest son, Andrew, really bonded as they talked about Japanese life and Ogura tutored Andrew on some Japanese phrases.
I was also able to see the bonding happening between the other partner teams as I photographed a few of them at work, and as we participated in group events including a trip to Round 1 and a volleyball challenge between us and our first sergeants and chiefs.
As it came to our final day together, the word "family" was prominent. It was frequently stated in the farewell my PA office gave "Sergeant Awesome" before he left the office. In such a short time, we all considered him part of our Air Force PA family. You could also see and hear it as the partner teams exchanged tokens during a farewell dinner, our comments and personally-reflective gifts radiating a feeling of connection.
Yes, I was nervous at first. But the opportunity this exchange gave me to open my eyes more to being a good guest here, to learn more about my host country's culture and to make a friend for life was one I will always be thankful for.