Fukushima Iitate Village 6th graders visit Kadena
KADENA AIR BASE, JAPAN -- Two fire trucks stood by on a bright and clear summer morning as buses made their way to the Kadena Air Base fire station headquarters.
Water arches and rainbows welcomed 49 sixth-graders and 11 escorts from Iitate Village to the base July 24.
As part of an educational trip, the sixth-graders were invited to spend the day with American military children at the fire house in an effort to gain a better understanding of the different types of rescue services the U.S. Air Force has to offer, as well as the importance of friendship between Japan and the United States.
On March 11, 2011, both Japan and U.S. rescue forces responded to one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit the region, after an earthquake with a 9.0 magnitude occurred off the coast of Japan. This caused a massive tsunami that devastated the Tohoku coastal areas of Japan and resulted in catastrophic damages, to include the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Iitate Village, located approximately 24 miles from the power plant, is currently designated as one of the off-limit zones. As a result of the off-limit zones, more than 6,000 villagers have been displaced and three elementary schools from the Iitate Village were required to relocate to the neighboring town of Kawamata where a temporary school was setup.
"When the earthquake hit Fukushima I was two kilometers away from the nuclear plant at that time, so I experienced the disaster and the earthquake as well," said Setsuko Wada, principal of Itoi Elementary School. "Not only did the Japanese authorities provide us support and disaster relief, but people from other foreign countries, especially the U.S. military, helped us as well. So we're here to say thank you to U.S. military members."
As part of the visit, the sixth-graders had the opportunity to view a helicopter medical evacuation that simulated real-world disaster support, a dog show that displayed how military working dogs apprehend fleeing or violent criminals, and a simulated structural fire complete with a victim rescue and medical aid.
It's important to show the children that not only does Kadena perform military-related missions, but the U.S. Air Force also supports different types of relief missions, including natural disasters and ship wrecks, said Staff Sgt. Kristofer Felix, 31st Rescue Squadron pararescueman.
"So we're on 24/7 alert out here helping them out as well," Felix added.
In addition to the demonstrations, the children also had the opportunity to try on firefighter gear, climb inside fire trucks, practice spraying water from fire hoses, and meet Sparky, the fire dog mascot.
"We just wanted to let them come out here and have a good time," said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Henderson, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy fire chief. "It not only helps build a joint relationship with our off-base community, but it also just kind of shows the people that as firemen, as security forces, as PJs (pararescue jumpers), we're all just normal human beings that just want to do the right thing."
After the fire house visit, the day concluded with games and a buffet style-lunch at the Nakayoshi Youth Programs Complex.
"When we hear about the military we always imagine weapon systems or security," Wada said. "However, through today's visit we saw people who train really hard to help or save other people's lives and that's a totally different aspect than what we imagined before we visited here."