Okinawan children from local orphanages spend day at Kadena
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- More than 50 children from several Okinawan orphanages spent the day at Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 29 to learn about Kadena's mission, see different demonstrations and interact with American children their own ages.
Operation Sakura, named after the Japanese word meaning cherry blossom, gave the children an opportunity to tour the base, foster new friendships and exchange cultural experiences.
"Today is about discovery," said Brig. Gen. Matt Molloy, 18th Wing commander. "Discovering our similarities and embracing the differences that can help us learn from each other and appreciate one another."
The children were nervous, and a little unsure of what to expect when welfare students looked out bus windows and saw people waiting for them at the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron.
After three months of planning and being the first event like this, Operation Sakura was no easy task.
"This (event was) important because we are visitors to Japan," said Felipe Jimenez, 18th Mission Support Group deputy director. "It puts the right foot forward for us and shows that we care!"
Throughout the day, the students were given pararescueman, military working dog, and explosive ordinance disposal demonstrations and were participants during field events.
"Part of our job here is to be ambassadors and also to give back to our host country," Jimenez explained.
As a bilateral event, Sakura was able to give students and volunteers an opportunity to share fellowship with one another and exchange cultural experiences such as language and building friendships.
"I think this event went extremely well," said Capt. Cheryl Watkins, Operation Sakura project manager.
Sakura drew people in who have a big heart, and allowed them a chance to be a part of something bigger than them, Jimenez added.
"This day will be forever etched in our memories and will strengthen our relationships for generations to come," Molloy said.
The event could not have been possible without coordination between Kadena and the Ryukyu-no-Kaze non-profit organization.
"(I would like to send) a huge thanks to the volunteers, the units that participated, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools and Ryukyu-no-Kaze, who helped tremendously," Watkins said. "I really hope we can continue this next year because the Japanese and the Americans really benefited from this."