Japan's Foreign Minister recognizes SOF Airmen for Operation Tomodachi relief efforts

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cram
  • 353rd Special Operations Group
Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs recognized Airmen from the 353rd Special Operation Group and other U.S. service members stationed on Okinawa for relief efforts following the Great East Earthquake of 11 March 2011 during a visit here May 28.

Foreign Minister Takeaki MATSUMOTO presented a small plaque as a token of gratitude to Col. Robert Toth, the Joint Force Special Operations Component Commander and Commander, 353rd SOG during Operation Tomodachi relief efforts on behalf of the Japanese people during a small ceremony that took place during a meeting with Senior U.S. leadership on Okinawa.

"It was truly an honor to accept this plaque on behalf of the men and women of the 353rd SOG," Col. Toth said. "From the start of our relief efforts on March 12, we worked side by side, around the clock with Japanese officials and other U.S. forces. Our focus was on aiding the Japanese people -- our hosts, neighbors and friends -- during their time of need. Although I have stated before that thanks are not necessary, we are deeply appreciative of the thanks we have received for our efforts during Operation Tomodachi, but none more than this from Minister MATSUMOTO. This token of gratitude is definitely one our group will cherish for a long time."

As Minister MATSUMOTO thanked U.S. senior leadership during his speech at a small ceremony, he said the Great East Earthquake created Japan's worst crisis since World War II and specifically mentioned how operations at Sendai Airport highlight the resilience of the Japanese people, symbolize Japan's recovery and further stated how the airport has become a showcase of the U.S./Japan alliance.

"Last week, China's Premier Wen Jiabao landed at Sendai Airport and was surprised that it was operational," Minister MATSUMOTO said. "I am not sure of his understanding of our cooperative efforts to clean up after the disaster, but it was a clear message to the world as to the strength of our alliance. The alliance is effective and the efforts of U.S. military in support of Operation Tomodachi strengthened the people to people bond between the citizens of Japan and the United States."

Airmen from the 353rd SOG worked closely with Japanese officials to open and manage airfield operations at the airport in support of international relief efforts March 16 through April 5. The Airport opened to commercial traffic April 13. During their operations at Sendai Airport, Airmen from the group provided air traffic control services for more than 250 relief aircraft from multiple nations; received 167 humanitarian cargo missions; processed 517 aid workers; received and off-loaded more than 2.5 million pounds of humanitarian relief supplies and more than 109,000 pounds of fuel. Airmen from the 353rd SOG opened Matsushima Field, Sendai Airport and provided fuel to establish a Forward Area Refueling Point at Yamagata Airport. They also conducted surveys of Tohoku University Hospital and Hanamaki Airport. Pararescuemen from the group's 320th Special Tactics Squadron flew countless Search and Rescue missions and aircrews from the 1st and 17th Special Operations Squadrons flew 161 relief sorties; delivered 878,000 pounds of relief supplies; transported 534 relief personnel and offloaded 185,000 pounds of fuel during Operation Tomodachi.