YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan --
On March 11, a level 9.0 earthquake rocked Japan and the tsunami which followed wreaked havoc on the north eastern coast of Japan. It killed thousands and displaced many more. The tsunami leveled towns leaving only building foundations in some areas and moved cars as if they were toys.
In the wake of the tsunami, the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant went off line. This left many anticipating a nuclear meltdown of some sort.
Because of the uncertainties related to the Fukushima power plant, the Marine Corps’ Chemical, Biological Incident Response Force deployed to Japan.
The Marines of CBIRF are trained to operate and assist in personnel recovery, decontamination and medical care in a contaminated area. The CBIRF Marines out of Indian Head, Md., have not had to employ their search, rescue, decontamination or medical skills.
However, the CBIRF Marines were able to exchange ideas and learn from their Japan Ground Self Defense Force counterparts, said Marine Corps Maj. Michael Johnson, mission commander of the CBIRF unit.
“This is a unique situation here where we get to work with the JGSDF,” Johnson, a native of Allentown, Pa., said.
The situation was so unique that it warranted a bilateral demonstration for Japan’s Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa and Air Force Lt. Gen. Burton M. Field, commander of the Joint Support Forces and United States Forces, Japan, at Yokota Air Base, April 23.
According to JGSDF Lt. Col. Tatsuya Okaura, commander of the participating JGSDF chemical unit, the visit went well.
“He (Kitazawa) was very pleased with what we showed him,” Okaura said. “He saw how well we integrated and worked together.”
Johnson agreed and spoke more about the integration and what his CBIRF Marines bring to the fold.
“We really showcased what we can do,” Johnson said. “The Minister of Defense got to see our capabilities and how we matched ours with the Japan Ground Self Defense Force.”
Johnson also said that it is important for national leaders here or in the U.S. to fully understand the capabilities of CBIRF and to do that they need to see it.
“Seeing is believing,” Johnson said. “You can see it on paper and have it explained, but to really appreciate it, you have to see it first-hand.”
The capabilities that CBIRF bring are casualty search and rescue, personnel decontamination and emergency care and stabilization of contaminated personnel, Johnson said.
Those skills matched up well with the JGSDF’s skills, Okaura said. Bloomington, Minn., native, Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas Janey, a technical rescueman with CBIRF, agreed and said that working with the JGSDF was fun.
“It was great to come here and work with the Japanese,” Janey said. “Seeing what they brought to the table and how it complements our capabilities was cool.”
Johnson shared Janey’s sentiments, but in the end the CBIRF Marines had a job to do and accomplish that they did, he said.
“We wanted to show what we can do with the integration between the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and the Marine Corps,” Johnson said. “I believe we did an outstanding job showcasing just that.”
During Operation Tomodachi, more than 20,000 service members, 144 aircraft and 22 ships deployed to Japan in support of Operation Tomodachi.