Retired airman draws on relief work, Olympics to build bridges

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Earth Day Fukushima with Peach Heart NPO. Photo courtesy of Carl Williams
Earth Day Fukushima with Peach Heart NPO. Photo courtesy of Carl Williams

Retired airman draws on relief work, Olympics to build bridges

by: Tetsuo Nakahara | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: March 25, 2015

Moved both by the tragedy of a natural disaster and the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, a retired airman hopes to build cultural bridges between U.S. and Japanese youths through sports, character building and community service. 

Through Gold Medal Kids clubs, American and Japanese middle school to college-age participants will form clubs lead by local adults, devise community projects and carry out activities such as neighborhood cleanups, food drives and creating art. Athletes will mentor members who will eventually travel overseas to one another’s countries, according to Carl Williams.

“Each GMK club encourages the other to succeed until the final milestones are accomplished. . . . Language, cultural and skills exchange take place at every level of these activities,” said Williams, 57, of Dallas, Texas. “(Athletes will) help with the goals of providing sports based vocational learning opportunities that will enhance skills and support the development of a well-balanced lifestyle. GMKs will be better prepared and champions in life.”

Williams added that he spent more than 10 of his 22-year Air Force career in Japan, including stints at Misawa Air Base and Yokota Air Base where he also attended middle and high school in his youth. He served in security and disaster response forces, and as a command post officer before retiring as a master sergeant in 1997.

So when he saw the devastation wrought by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunamis on TV from home on March 11, 2011 he said it struck a personal cord. He knew he had to act.

“The whole world watched the black wave rolling into Tohoku – and I sat and watched it,” said Williams, who at the time was a software engineer and disaster recovery coordinator for IBM.

“When I was in Misawa in the early 90s, I worked plans and programs and wrote disaster plans and mutual support agreement between Japan and U.S. I lived in Tohoku and I knew the area,” he said. “With all my skills, background and training, how could I sit when I knew that I didn’t know anyone else who can match my experience? I would have been derelict to sit and not do something.”   

Within a week – when tens of thousands of foreigners were fleeing the country amid fears of leaked radiation from Tohoku’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – Williams said he was on a plane back to Japan. He said he teamed up with aid groups such as Peace Boat, Japanese American Citizens League and Direct Relief International to support disaster relief projects.

Although he had taken leave from IBM with the intent to return, he never did. He said he has been at it ever since, splitting his time between the States and Japan. He said he has helped to distribute more than $10 million in donations and has participated in more than 250 life-saving programs in the past four years. Some of these projects include a mobile clinic, mobile library, farmers market and a mobile zoo to help bolster morale in the devastated region.

He’s now eying the bigger picture with his Gold Medal project. He said that after comparing the needs of communities back home in Texas with those in Tohoku he concluded that youth throughout Japan and the U.S. could benefit from it. Still in its infancy, Williams said it will draw on the strong U.S.-Japan bonds and connections formed from disaster relief efforts in Tohoku.

“The announcement of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo gave me an avenue to build relationships between young people in Japan and U.S,” said Williams.  “So, I created a system where each side would support the other club with sports mentors to support a local cause.

“Adult athletes of every level of competition have been signing up to help,” he added. “Veteran organizations and former Air Force Security Police are lining up to mentor at home and away.”

Those on board so far include LA Tri Club, VETSports, Fort Worth and Dallas Olympic athletes and National Basketball Retired Players Association, FC Dallas, the Texas Rangers. The College of Creative Studies and the Tomodachi Initiative based out of U.S. Embassy in Tokyo are also onboard, according to Williams.

Gold Medal Kids in the process of developing ties between interested organizations in Japan and those in the U.S. Fundraising is on the horizon as well as the launch of the project’s new website, he added.

Members of the U.S. military community, including those stationed in Japan, are welcome to participate and provide ideas for future projects.

For more information, email Carl Williams at: carl@goldmedalkids.org