OPG leads way as Marines, JSDF join disaster preparedness training
HIRARA CITY, MIYAKO ISLAND, Japan – Members of the Okinawa Prefectural Government hosted a series of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills with the Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. Marines on and around Miyako Island Sept. 6.
This year’s exercise was the first time OPG asked the Marines to participate, understanding the immense capability the Marine Corps brings in the realm of disaster relief capabilities. The drills are part of a continuing effort by the OPG to improve natural disaster response capabilities in Okinawa prefecture. Attention to disaster preparedness throughout Japan remains high after the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
The Governor of Okinawa Hirokazu Nakaima observed the drill first hand. “And today, for the first time ever, we have the U.S. military participating in this drill, and I would like to thank them for all the coordination and for participating,” Nakaima said.
Marine leadership from Marine Corps Installations Pacific participated in the drill, although scheduled Marine Corps aviation support was cancelled due to poor weather.
“I was impressed with the scenario and the actual conduct of the disaster response rehearsal; it was much more than just simulating or going through the motions. It is obvious that this drill was taken very seriously by all parties and the Okinawa Prefectural Government put considerable time into the planning and execution,” said Col. Christopher B. Snyder, the deputy commander with Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
The exercise was a first for the Japan Self-Defense Forces to participate in a joint manner, and also a first for Marines to participate as more than just observers, according to Dr. Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff, Government and External Affairs, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
“The Marine Corps participates with local governments when asked for evacuation drills or disaster preparations,” said Eldridge. “Being able to participate in this capacity with the OPG is a significant advancement in partnering with our neighbors and friends. This relationship is especially critical during disaster situations.”
There are similarities to the Miyako Island drill and the Marine’s past response to Oshima Island, Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture after the 2011 tsunami. Just as Oshima Island was cut off from outside aid by the tsunami, remote outer islands around Okinawa, including Miyako, could lose port or airfield capabilities after such a disaster. The Marines’ expeditionary amphibious forces were able to assist Oshima Island with relief supplies and immediate aid, as the Corps does not need a functioning port or airfield to operate. Such capability could be very valuable to remote islands if a disaster strikes in Okinawa.
“Everyone from children of the island to the fire brigade participated in the training, some digging through actual rubble, and the realism of this drill gives me high confidence in the OPG’s ability to respond to crisis,” said Snyder. “The Marine Corps is proud to be able to use our extensive disaster response capabilities to be able to assist in the training, as the Marines in this region have responded to actual disasters 15 times in the last ten years. If something like this were to actually happen on Okinawa or outer islands, this training will help save lives.”
Having the Japan Air, Ground, and Maritime Self-Defense Forces represented among the 86 participating organizations helped both the Japan and U.S. governments maintain and improve upon actual responses in the event of an unfortunate series of events, according to Eldridge.
The exercise consisted of multiple drills, including response to a simulated magnitude 8.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, nearly the same real-life scenario that occurred on mainland Japan in the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
The wet weather prevented some of the training, but the drills were still an overall success, according to Maj. Eric J. Mattson, civil affairs team leader with III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity to work directly with the Okinawa government for a disaster drill,” said Mattson. “We’ve observed a number of times, and participated in small-scale HADR drills at the camp and city locations, but nothing at this level.”
Those who could participate felt more than satisfied with the outcome of the day’s work, according to Eldridge.
“OPG did a fantastic job ensuring the scenarios were realistic and well-executed,” said Eldridge. “Besides taking an active role in disaster response, a major accomplishment of the HADR exercise is the networking that happens when an opportunity like this one comes up.”
The strengthened ties aid in future assistance efforts, regardless of where they are needed, according to Eldridge.
“Because we worked together so well, everyone involved has a firm grasp of what the others are capable of and how they can help anytime, anywhere,” said Eldridge.
Nakaima concluded the drill by thanking all the participants for helping to raise Okinawan’s disaster response capabilities and wishing all the participating organizations his best as they continue the work of disaster preparedness in the Okinawa Prefecture.