Exercise learns from past, saves future
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- 5 a.m. It is a quiet Saturday morning in Tachikawa. The silence is broken with the birds singing to greet early commuters and the rising sun.
5:05 a.m. The ground begins to shake violently. The concrete floor waves like jelly, the railroads turn and twist like a wild snake, and skyscrapers crumble as if they were made of sand.
5:07 a.m. The peaceful morning turned into complete chaos in just two minutes.
The violent earthquake, caused by a fault underneath Tachikawa, destroyed the entire area and took the lives of countless victims.
This was the scenario Tokyo Metropolitan Government used during their disaster relief exercise Nov. 23, 2013.
Yokota Air Base played a vital role during the exercise, demonstrating its capabilities during the emergency and strengthening its partnership with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
"Our role was to support the TMG and its surrounding 23 wards during a Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Assistance exercise," said Lt. Col. Brian Choate, 374th Airlift Wing plans and programs chief. "We provided helicopter support, coordinated the use of Yokota Air Base as a hub and we coordinated transit via ground transport to the hosting and surrounding municipalities."
The exercise provided an important opportunity for both Japanese and American forces to work hand-in-hand to prepare for any future incidents, using the past experience as a base.
"We had lessons learned (during Operation Tomodachi). The relationship with our counterparts here in Japan in crucial if we're going to execute something that's real world," Choate said. "This (exercise) adds to those lessons learned, so if real incident does happen again, we'll be better prepared as a joint, combined, bilateral force."
Yokota's participation with the disaster relief exercise began with airlift support from the 459th Airlift Squadron, as they demonstrated their capability to deliver relief supplies from downtown Tokyo back to Yokota Air Base. Several additional supplies were sent directly to Yokota via JGSDF UH-1 and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Members from the JGSDF were on hand to receive and deliver supplies.
Upon delivery, the medical supplies were shipped to corresponding destinations to support the simulated disaster.
As the last part of the scenario, an injured person was airlifted to Yokota.
The 374th Medical Group emergency responders were on the scene to escort both the Japanese medical team and the patient to the on-base hospital, where a team of medical professionals diagnosed the condition and possible procedures.
"I think the exercise went very well," Choate said. "The U.S. had, aside from day-to-day operations, operations going on in the Philippines. The Japanese ground forces as well as the Japanese air defense forces were both engaged in multiple operations, and despite all of that, we had enough coordination and bilateral engagement to execute a disaster relief and humanitarian assistance exercise."