Operation Tomodachi: Partnerships, Presence, Readiness and Heritage

From Military and News Reports by Naval History and Heritage Command,Communication and Outreach Division

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NORTHERN JAPAN (March 15, 2011) An aerial view of coastal damage in northern Japan after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area. Ships and aircraft from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group are conducting search and rescue operations and re-supply missions as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi throughout northern Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd/Released)

On Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m. Japan was rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, centered 80 miles east of the coastal city of Sendai. The initial earthquake, the fourth most powerful earthquake recorded since 1900, was followed by a tsunami and a partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant, as well as multiple aftershocks in the ensuing weeks.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey more than 15,000 people lost their lives, another 130,000 were displaced from their homes, and at least 330,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. The World Bank estimated the economic cost could reach up to $235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history.

America’s Response 

Within hours, a massive U.S. Navy relief operation began, under Operation Tomodachi, the Japanese word for ‘friend.’

KAMAISHI, Japan (March 21, 2011) Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Justin Dowd, from Phoenix, surveys areas affected by a tsunami caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Dowd is assigned to the Black Knights of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4 embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan is operating off the coast of Japan providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin B. Gray/Released)

KAMAISHI, Japan (March 21, 2011) Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Justin Dowd, from Phoenix, surveys areas affected by a tsunami caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. . (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin B. Gray/Released)

All told at least 140 aircraft and 20 U.S. ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, deployed in support of the operation. More than 20,000 American military personnel participated in the operation including Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, as well as American service men and women from Misawa and Kadena air bases.

In addition to immediate relief assistance and support to Japanese self-defense forces, the U.S. military delivered more than two million gallons of water, 189 tons of food, 11,960 gallons of fuel and 100 tons of relief supplies as well as medical assistance, search-and-rescue support, and heavy lift assistance.

In addition to providing relief supplies, the U.S. provided support after the earthquake and tsunami caused damage and problems atseveral of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

The U.S. supported Japan with capabilities that included radiological controls and teams specifically trained to operate in chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological environments and equipped for agent detection and identification; casualty search, rescue and personnel decontamination; and emergency medical care and stabilization of contaminated personnel. Airborne systems flown on helicopters and airplanes were used to monitor radioactivity in the area and teams on the ground also monitored radioactivity. Where radiological effects were encountered, they were reported to both the U.S. and Japanese governments to characterizing conditions around damaged nuclear facilities.

Looking Back 

Operation Tomodachi

SEA OF JAPAN (March 19, 2011) A landing craft utility debarks the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) to survey landing sites near Akita, Japan. Essex, the amphibious dock landing ships USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Germantown (LSD 42), with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU), are off the coast of Akita Prefecture, Japan, in support of Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam M. Bennett/Released)

Operation Tomodachi proved again the partnerships and presence a ready Navy-Marine Corps team offer the nation and world. The naval record, dating back more than 240 years, is replete with examples of being wherever needed in the wake of world disasters. It’s partly why the U.S. Navy’s heritage is so often romanticized in movies and culture.

“To be as flexible as you were, to go from one mission to suddenly turn and do humanitarian assistance and disaster relief without costs, without changing any equipment, any people, changing any training and going from your normal day-to-day jobs without any hesitation and doing it so well, no other country can do that and no other service can do that like the people here,” Mabus told a group of Sailors assigned 7th Fleet ships when he visited Japan in April 2011. Within hours of the earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck Japan March 11, much of the U.S. 7th Fleet was on the move, re positioning ships and aircraft to assist the Japanese Self Defense Force in their relief efforts. “There is no other force in the world other than the United States Navy and Marine Corps that could have done what you all did,” Mabus said. Mabus said Operation Tomodachi demonstrated the U.S. commitment to its longtime alliance with Japan. “The partnership between America and Japan was made stronger because of what you did,” Mabus said.

Earlier this month the U.S. Navy took time to remember the event, and the partnership.

A Pentagon ceremony attended by the Japanese deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Japan and American dignitaries was “…an opportunity to reflect, to remember, to never forget the tragedy and loss of the Great East Japan Earthquake,” said Rear Adm. Robert Girrier who was the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group commander during the disaster response. “Tomodachi, friend and also trusted partner, ally, teammate, these words mean something. They describe a relationship well established but also deepened through adversity and through shared experience through learning quickly and growing together stronger.”

PACIFIC OCEAN (March 27, 2011) Capt. Bradley Lee, commander of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, discusses operational capabilities with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Hiroyuki Kasui, commander of Escort Flotilla 1, aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Essex and embarked elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) are operating off the coast of Kesennuma in northeastern Japan supporting Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Casey H. Kyhl/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (March 27, 2011) Capt. Bradley Lee, commander of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, discusses operational capabilities with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Hiroyuki Kasui, commander of Escort Flotilla 1, aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Essex and embarked elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) are operating off the coast of Kesennuma in northeastern Japan supporting Operation Tomodachi. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Casey H. Kyhl/Released)

For a catalogue of Navy news stories with detail about Operation Tomodachi click here.