Children from local foster homes have valuable experience
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- As more than 100 Okinawan students and staff members stepped off the buses to spend the day at Kadena March 28, their smiles filled the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron as they were welcomed by loud cheers and applause from American students and U.S. service members.
The students first arrived at the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, where they toured a KC-135 and received backpacks filled with clothes, school supplies, treats, and other things that the orphanages had asked for to take home.
2nd Lt. Virginia Nord, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron officer in charge of plans and programs and project officer for the event, said that like its larger fall counterpart, the Kadena Special Olympics, Operation Sakura is vital to building a strong relationship between the U.S. Air Force and the local Okinawan community.
"The event is important because we are here on Okinawa, so we want to give back to the community, especially the children," said Nord. "We are showing them the base's mission and what Kadena can do for the local community. This is the second year Operation Sakura has run, and after seeing the day through, I think it is especially important to continue."
During the event, Okinawan children from 6-17 years old were given the opportunity to tour the base and interact with American students from Kadena.
After leaving the 733rd AMS, all of the students were taken through tours of the schools as well as participated in a field day at Risner fitness center.
"It's pretty special to see the Okinawan students gain insight into the life of an American student," Nord said. "They were blown away by the pajama day at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School."
Giving the Okinawan students insight into an American student's life is important, as well as allowing the students the opportunity to share friendship and cultural exchanges.
"It gives us an opportunity to show them that we are thankful we are here (on Okinawa)," said 2nd Lt. Dayton Gilbreath, 18th Contracting Squadron contracting specialist. "It gives the Okinawan students an opportunity to do something fun and interact with American students from a different background."
Overall, Operation Sakura was very successful, but at the end of the day was when it was evident that the event was truly a success.
"I really measured the day's success in the closing portion of the day," Nord said. "When it came time for the Okinawan students to depart there were hugs, tears and huge smiles everywhere."
"I saw some of the 6-year-old Okinawan students latched onto American high school students' legs and middle schoolers exchanging cell phone numbers," she continued. "You could tell there were a lot of friends made throughout the day, which was the true goal of Operation Sakura."
While the event was so successful, it could not have been possible without the coordination of all of the volunteers and time they put in planning for three months to make Operation Sakura happen.
"I had an amazing team of about 20 event points of contact who put in a lot of late hours to make the event successful," Nord said. "In total, we had more than 130 volunteers who helped make Operation Sakura possible. It was a testament to their planning and efforts that the day went as smoothly as it did."
"I'd also like to thank the Okinawan facilities for coming out and spending the day with us at Kadena," she continued. "I know our students got a lot out of it and I hope their students did as well."