Japan (April 11, 2011) -- At sea and ashore, the men and
women of the U.S. 7th Fleet observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m.
Japan Standard Time today, marking one month since the devastating
earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan.
The relief operation that followed was named Operation Tomodachi, after
the Japanese word for "friend." For the past month, U.S. military
forces have assisted the Japan Self Defense Force in their recovery. It
was three disasters in one. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake, a tsunami wave
and a nuclear accident combined to make the tragedy of unimaginable
magnitude. Within hours, the U.S. 7th Fleet mobilized more than 20
ships, 19,000 personnel and over 150 aircraft to support the Japan Self
The following is a day-by-day account of the U.S. 7th Fleet's
involvement in Operation Tomodachi.
Around the 7th Fleet, ships initiated full personnel recalls
and prepared to get underway. Ships in Yokosuka and Guam stationed
linehandlers to make adjustments as the water levels changed rapidly
due to the tsunami. There was no damage to U.S. ships in Japan, however
the submarines USS Houston and USS City of Corpus Christi in Guam broke
their mooring lines and were adrift in the harbor; they were quickly
returned to the pier using tugs.
USS Houston suffered damage to its propeller in the incident, which was
subsequently replaced. USS Tortuga departed Sasebo en route to Pohang,
Republic of Korea, to embark MH-53 heavy-lift helicopters. The 7th
Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge began onloading a humanitarian assistance
and disaster relief (HADR) kit in Singapore.
USS Blue Ridge departed Singapore enroute Japan to coordinate
U.S. maritime relief efforts, conducting an at-sea replenishment with
USNS Rappahannock to onload another HADR kit. The USS Ronald Reagan
(CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group (CSG), which included the cruiser USS
Chancellorsville (CG 62), the destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) and the
combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10) steamed towards Japan,
arriving off the coast of northern Honshu late in the evening. USS
Essex (LHD 2), with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit,
departed Sepangar, Malaysia, en route Japan, joining USS Harpers Ferry
and USS Germantown en route.
The Reagan CSG was the first to arrive on scene March 13 and
begin search and recovery missions using its embarked MH-60
helicopters, and dropping four loads of humanitarian supplies to
survivors ashore. USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS John S. McCain (DDG 56),
USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) began conducting
search and rescue operations. USS Mustin (DDG 89) departed Yokosuka to
assist in this mission.
P-3 Orion aircraft from VP-4 and assigned to CTF-72 also began
conducting search missions both over land an over the at-sea debris
fields. USS Tortuga onloaded two heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters off the
coast of Pohang, Republic of Korea. As helicopters were returning to
USS Ronald Reagan, radiological control personnel onboard detected low
levels of contamination both on the helicopters and in the air. U.S.
ships were immediately repositioned to avoid the area downwind of the
Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
Air operations included 10 helicopters from Naval Air
Facility Atsugi and USS Ronald Reagan identifying several groups of
people in need of assistance in the vicinity of Minato, and delivering
water, blankets and food. Additional helicopters conducted surveys of
the at-sea debris field, and conducted search and rescue missions along
the coastline. USS Tortuga (LSD 46) with two heavy-lift MH-53
helicopters embarked, steamed towards Tomakomai on the eastern coast of
The Reagan CSG flew 29 sorties to deliver relief supplies to
displaced persons. USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group, including
the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the USS Harpers
Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) were enroute Honshu to
assist in relief efforts USS Tortuga arrived in Tomakomai, on the
island of Hokkaido, to onload Japan Ground Self Defense Force personnel
USS Tortuga (LSD 46) on-loaded about 300 Japan Ground Self
Defense Force personnel and 90 vehicles, for delivery to Aomori, on the
northern end of Honshu. USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conducted three
helicopter sorties to deliver some seven tons of food and water. Other
ships in the strike group flew 12 sorties, delivering food, water,
milk, juice, food, clothing, medical supplies and blankets. USNS
Safeguard offloaded high-pressure water pumps in Yokosuka to deliver to
the Government of Japan to assist with the recovery efforts at
Although snow and poor visibility hampered helicopter
operations, helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan strike group and
Carrier Air Wing Five in Atsugi conducted 10 helicopter sorties,
delivering about 10 tons of HA/DR supplies. The USS Essex (LHD 2), USS
Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) with the embarked
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived and stationed north east of
Honshu. USS Tortuga anchored in Ominato to offload JGSDF personnel via
Landing Craft Unit (LCU), as well as 5,000 Meals Ready to Eat (MREs)
and 5,000 bottles of water.
As Japan marked the one week point since the earthquake and
tsunami struck, the mission transitioned from rescue efforts to a new
mission of sustaining life. Helicopters from HS-4 and HSL-43 with the
USS Ronald Reagan strike group, and HSL-51 from Carrier Air Wing Five
in Atsugi, delivered 28 tons of food, water, clothes, medicine,
toiletries, baby supplies, and much needed kerosene to displaced
persons at fifteen relief sites ashore.
Despite cold weather and aftershocks as strong as 6.1 in
magnitude, 7th Fleet forces continued sustainment of life efforts in
support of Operation Tomodachi. The Warlords of HSL-51, Black Knights
of HS-4, and Battlecats of HSL-43 continued Humanitarian Aid and
Disaster Relief efforts by delivering 29 tons of aid from ships of the
Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group to locations ashore.
Helicopters rendered much needed materials to Hachinohe airport as well
as landing zones that mark shelters for displaced persons. Hachinohe
serves as a staging point for further distribution of aid. Helicopter
crews reported that three sites visited required no assistance – a
positive sign that ground-based relief efforts are starting to meet the
needs of displaced persons. They also report an increased presence of
Japan Ground Self Defense Force and medium to heavy equipment at such
Helicopters delivered more than 16 tons to 15 different
sites, including isolated areas and remote islands off the coast of
Sendai. F/A-18s conducted two aerial reconnaissance missions using the
Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP). To date, they have taken and
carefully reviewed over 61,000 images to look for "SOS" or other
distress signs, or groups of isolated people. The imagery is shared
with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.
USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), USS Germantown (LSD 42), USS
Tortuga (LSD 46) along with USS Essex (LHD 2) and the embarked 31st
Marine Expeditionary Unit were off the coast near Hachinohe to assist
humanitarian aid efforts along the affected northeastern coast and
reach people in remote areas where the tsunami hit hardest. Helicopters
with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, flew
two CH-46 helicopters from the USS Essex to deliver humanitarian aid
supplies including blankets and fresh water to Miyako city.
The pilots also conducted aerial surveys of 200 miles of the affected
coastline between Miyako and Ofunato. Ronald Reagan Strike group
helicopters carried 17 tons of supplies to 24 separate sites, and
identified 16 additional sites where groups of people are isolated to
be serviced with supplies in the coming days. A P-3 from VP-4 deployed
to Misawa conducted reconnaissance of coastal areas to continue the
search for displaced people and to find new landing zones to service
USS George Washington departed Yokosuka, moving as a precaution to
continue its maintenance at sea amidst fears over the worsening crisis
at Fukushima. USS Lassen also departed Yokosuka to move to Sasebo in
order to continue its maintenance there.
The piers were completely empty in Yokosuka, marking the
first time in memory that not a single U.S. Navy ship was in port. A
total of 19 ships, 140 aircraft and 19,703 Sailors and Marines of the
U.S. 7th Fleet continued to conduct relief operations. To date the Navy
has made 349 deliveries of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief
supplies to 84 landing sites.
Sailors and Marines aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS
Chancellorsville (CG 62), USS Preble (DDG 88) and the ships from
Destroyer Squadron 15 collected personal donations from the crews to
supply displaced Japanese citizens with essential goods for survival.
The items were transported to various landing zones throughout the
Aomori Prefecture by crew members of embarked Helicopter Anti-Submarine
Squadron (HS) 4.
More than 100 blankets, 237 pants, 450 shirts, 311 jackets and
sweaters, 748 pairs of socks, 154 towels, 57 pairs of shoes, 166
undergarments, 76 hats, 8 scarves, and 34 pairs of gloves were donated
in just a few hours. Sailors even donated over 20 stuffed animals for
children. Commander Task Force 76 developed port clearance plans for
the Hachinohe port. USNS Safeguard was enroute Hachinohe to assist the
Japan Maritime Self Defense Force with clearing debris from the port.
USS Ronald Reagan took a pause from flight operations in
order to conduct a fresh water wash-down on its flight deck and
embarked aircraft to remove any remaining traces of radioactive
contamination from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant that might have been
deposited while conducting disaster relief operations over the past 11
days. Weather provided challenges, allowing flight crews to reach only
12 landing zones due to snow and heavy rain.
In a positive development, 25 landing sites of the total of 68 were
taken off the list of landing sites for the U.S. after being identified
by Japanese Self Defense Force as no longer needing aid or being fully
serviced by JSDF. Commander Task Force 76 conducted beach landing site
surveys, and developed plans for dive operations and port clearance for
the Hachinohe port by U.S. and JMSDF divers.
As many as 700 industrial shipping containers and 200 fishing vessels
were missing from the area, and many may pose a hazard to safe
navigation in the port. USNS Safeguard with the embarked Mobile Diving
Salvage Unit One would arrive in Hachinohe the next day to assist with
clearing debris from the harbor.
Commander Task Force 76 (CTF 76) conducted diving operations
in Hachinohe investigating the harbor area and also the Liquid Natural
Gas (LNG) pier. USNS Safeguard with the embarked Mobile Diving Salvage
Unit One arrived in Hachinohe to assist with clearing debris from the
harbor. A P-3 "Orion" aircraft from Misawa took Electro Optical (EO)
images of areas in and around Hachinohe, Kuji, Shimanokoshi, Omoto,
Taro, Miyako, Kamaishi and Ofunato, finding three new landing zones
with groups of displaced people.
All imagery from these flights was shared with the Japan Self Defense
Forces. Two U.S. Navy barges, each capable of containing 350,000
gallons of fresh water, were prepared and filled at Yokosuka for
possible transport to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant if needed
for the ongoing efforts to cool the damaged reactors.
USNS Safeguard (ARS 50) with the embarked divers of Mobile
Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5
and Underwater Construction Team 2, worked together with Japan Maritime
Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and commercial divers to open the harbor for
operations. They took underwater surveillance imagery with side scan
sonar equipment to detect, mark and move underwater obstacles,
including a car and a 100-ton block of cement, from the channel leading
to the liquid natural gas (LNG) pier.
A P-3 "Orion" from VP-4 and assigned to CTF-72 conducted a
reconnaissance flight to survey ports and roads in Mukai, Toni, Kuji,
and Ofunato. The crew spotted the words "HELP WATER" formed in the snow
of a baseball field located beside an elementary school. They quickly
relayed the information to the Japan Self Defense Force, and ensured
that the site was being serviced by the JGSDF.
Weather severely impacted support operations, with 40+ mph
winds, heavy snow and ice accumulation on rotor and fixed wing aircraft
experienced across the entire area of operation. Helicopters were
unable to make any deliveries of relief supplies. Commander, Fleet
Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) handed over the second of two water barges
to the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force.
Together with the first barge, a total of 500,000 gallons of fresh
water was sent to the area off the coast of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi
nuclear power plant to support cooling efforts for the damaged
reactors. The JMSDF ship JS Hiuchi escorted the first barge. The fresh
water may be used in replacement of salt water in the cooling
operations to lessen the corrosive impact of salt from the sea water
which is currently being used for emergency cooling.
USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) conducted
an amphibious resupply of Oshima Island, off the coast of Kessennuma.
The earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11 severed utilities and
destroyed ferry service, leaving the island largely without basic
utilities or any form of resupply capability.
Essex launched two Landing Craft Units (LCUs) carrying a commercial
electrical utility vehicle, a water supply vehicle, a fuel truck, three
electrical generator vehicles, a 23-person work crew to conduct utility
repairs and 15,000 lbs of relief supplies that included 900 gallons of
bulk water, 288 cases of Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs), tarps for temporary
shelter, as well as health and comfort packages with hygienic items,
baby wipes, sunscreen, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste/toothbrush,
shampoo, lotion, eye drops foot powder, razors, and tissue supplies.
A Navy P-3 "Orion" aircraft assisted the mission in Oshima by scanning
for obstructions in the water and coordinating with the LCUs during the
transit from Kesenumma to Oshima. The aircraft also captured images of
additional outlying islands and passed that information to the JSDF for
review and support of those locations as needed.
Residents of Oshima, off the coast of Kessennuma, enjoyed
their first full day of having electrical power after the USS Essex
(LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the Japan Self-Defense Force
(JSDF) combined efforts to restore to bring electrical utility trucks
and other relief supplies to the island that had been isolated and
without electricity for 16 days.
Assault Craft Unit 1 faced challenges getting the Landing Craft Utility
(LCU) ashore and carefully avoided floating debris in the water. Local
residents erupted in cheer as power was restored to the island by 5 p.m
the previous day.
USNS Safeguard (ARS 50) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and
Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and
Underwater Construction Team 2 moved to the port of Miyako in
preparation for port clearance operations there. Japan Maritime Self
Defense Force (JMSDF) and commercial divers are coordinating with 7th
Fleet units to assess the port and plan for clearance operations.
USNS Safeguard (ARS 50) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile
Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5
and Underwater Construction Team 2 anchored in the port of Miyako in
preparation for port clearance operations. Tortuga launched a Landing
Craft Unit (LCU) equipped with side scan sonar to survey the port. The
port of Miyako was severely impacted by the tsunami of March 11 with
commercial and pleasure craft sunk, concrete pier pilings washed
ashore, and one complete pier destroyed.
Helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 moved 54 pallets
of relief supplies from USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and
USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) to the Misawa, where they will moved via
C-130 aircraft to Sendai. From there, U.S. and Japan Ground Self
Defense Forces (JGSDF) will distribute the items to disaster areas as
needed. The JGSDF has opened most roads in the disaster areas, and are
able to move most goods to displaced persons via ground transportation.
A P-3 "Orion" aircraft from the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron Four
(VP-4) conducted a search and rescue flight off the Tohoku coast to
search for debris or objects at sea that could interfere with shipping.
The aircraft spotted two boats adrift, approx. 20 and 60 feet in
length, adrift and immediately reported their positions to the Japan
Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and Japan Coast Guard so they could
Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex amphibious ready group
and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) planned for Operation
"Field Day", a clearing and clean up mission on the remote island of
Oshima off the coast of Kessennuma. In conjunction with the Japan
Ground Self Defense Force, the effort will include clearing the port,
and clearing debris from local schools and government buildings.
The island is dependent upon ferry service to and from the mainland, is
the primary method for travel to/from the island and clearing the port
allows this vital lifeline to resume. Clearing and opening of schools
and government buildings is a significant step towards restoring the
island to normal.
Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) Lieutenant General
Eiji Kimizuka, Commanding General of Joint Task Force Tohoku in charge
of the ground recovery efforts, met with sailors on board the USS
Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and the USS Essex (LHD 2) today. Lieutenant
General Kimizuka journeyed to Reagan and Essex to meet with the
officers and sailors of those ships to express his gratitude for their
efforts in Operation Tomodachi.
The Reagan, Essex, and their supporting ships have conducted
distribution of relief supplies, conducted aerial surveillance flights
to identify groups of survivors and survey damage, cleared obstructions
in ports to allow shipping to resume, and transported vehicles,
personnel and supplies in support of the Japan Self Defense Forces.
Foul weather prevented General Kimizuka from returning to Sendai by
helicopter as planned this evening, so he is remaining overnight on
Essex, breaking his flag and making Essex the flagship -- albeit
temporarily -- for Japan's JTF Tohoku.
The fleet's focus of effort was the grim task of searching for
human remains off the Tohoku coast using both aircraft and surface
searches, as the bodies of victims which initially sunk may rise back
to the surface over time. 187 Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex
(LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), the 31st Marine Expeditionary
Unit (MEU) supporting Japan Ground Self Defense Forces began Operation
"Field Day", a clearing and clean up mission on the remote island of
Oshima off the coast of Kessennuma.
Four Humvees, a dump truck, a water truck and a fuel truck embarked two
LCUs to Oshima harbor for assistance with debris clearance activities
in the port as well as local schools and government buildings. The
island, which is dependent upon ferry service from the mainland, has
been isolated since March 11 when the tsunami washed its ferries
The fleet continued to search for human remains off the coast
of Tohoku and clean up and clearance operations on the island of
Oshima. Seventh Fleet ships, helicopters and aircraft searched over
2,000 square miles of ocean in a concerted effort to find victims of
the March 11 tsunami.
USS Cowpens (CG 63), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Shiloh (CG 67) and USS
Curtis D. Wilbur (DDG 54) searched in specific zones off the north east
coast of Honshu, with their helicopters, additional support helicopters
from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and one P-3 Orion aircraft
providing aerial reconnaissance support.
187 Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready
Group (ARG), the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) supporting Japan
Ground Self Defense Forces began Operation "Field Day," a clearing and
clean up mission on the remote island of Oshima off the coast of
Kessennuma. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Farnum, Battalion Landing Team
(BLT) Commander, met with local Oshima officials and developed a plan
for the overall clean up efforts over the coming days.
The first location slated for clean up was Uranohama harbor, the
primary ferry harbor for Oshima island, to allow ferry services to
begin. Also, water testing processes and specific locations to be
tested were identified to determine the safety of island drinking
water. Cleaning and debris clearance has also begun at Oshimatake
Junior High School in preparation to begin the new school year.
USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and
Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and
Underwater Construction Team 2 are also enroute to Oshima to assist in
port clearance operations. The island, which is dependent upon ferry
service from the mainland, has been largely isolated since March 11
when the tsunami washed its ferries ashore.
150 additional Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2)
Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
(MEU) joined the 187-member team that arrived yesterday on the island
of Oshima off the coast of Kessnnuma. The crew is taking part in
Operation Field Day, a mission to support the Japan Ground Self Defense
Force (JGSDF) in the cleaning up the remote island.
Oshima has been largely isolated since March 11 when the tsunami washed
its ferries ashore making harbor and port clearance operations a top
priority. Today, U.S. Sailors and Marines helped JSDF start clean up
efforts on the shores of the Uranohama harbor and will move to the
shores of the Yogai and Komagata harbors in the next few days.
As part of Operation Field Day, the team also continued clearing debris
around the Oshimatake Junior High School. USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) and
USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive
Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and Underwater Construction Team 2 are
en route to Oshima to assist Japan Self Defense Force (JMSDF) with
clearing the debris within the waters of the harbors.
The Defense Minister of Japan, Toshimi Kitazawa, and other
senior officials of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) visited the USS
Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) to meet with the crew and offer gratitude for
the service of the U.S. military during this time of unprecedented
crisis in Japan.
Defense Minister Kitazawa also shared a message from the Prime Minister
of Japan, Naoto Kan, which expressed that the Prime Minster's
appreciation of how USS Ronald Reagan immediately rushed to the Sanriku
area after the earthquake and tsunami and said "not only the victims of
the disaster hit areas, but also the entire Japanese people are deeply
moved and encouraged by the scenes of U. S. military members working
hard to support the relief efforts. Both Japan and the United States
are true tomodachi (friends)."
The residents of Oshima island, a small isolated island off
the coast of Kesennuma in the north east of Honshu, experienced some
personal relief in the form of showers due to the efforts of Sailors
and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and
the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Portable water heaters and
shower facilities arrived from the USS Essex (LPD 2) and Marines and
Sailors assembled those facilities at a local elementary school.
For many island residents, the showers were the first opportunity to
become clean since the tsunami hit on March 11. The shower facilities
were able to cycle through approx. 30 people per hour, but are only
open during daylight hours to conserve energy usage. Yesterday,
representatives from CTF 76 port clearance operations, met with
representatives of the Japan Coast Guard, JGSDF, and the Mayor of
Kesennuma to determine areas of salvage and clearance focus.
The channel between Kesennuma and Oshima was chosen as the primary area
of concentration as it is the primary waterway that connects the open
sea into Kesennuma and Oshima allowing trade ships access to the ports.
After this meeting, landing craft utilities (LCUs) and small boats
equipped with side scan sonar began scanning the Uranohama harbor
bottom to determine locations of obstacles for divers to mark obstacles
for salvage operations. The side scan sonar was very successful in
determining underwater hazards and obstacles during port clearance
operations at the ports of Hochenohe and Miyako.
Operation Field Day continued on Oshima island, clearing
several tons of debris from three land port areas, scanning port areas
for underwater obstructions and marking them and coordinating with
local government leadership to finalize turn over of information and
clean up duties to them.
After finalizing the cleaning and clearance operations, a small
ceremony held on Oshima April 6 officially brought Operation Field Day
to a close and also marked the end of Essex participation in Operation
Tomodachi. Rear Adm. Jeffery S. Jones, Commander Task Force 76, said it
was an honor to provide assistance to the citizens of Japan during
their time of need.
The U.S. 7th Fleet flew over 160 search and relief
sorties, flew 1,100 flight hours, delivered over 260 tons of
Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief supplies and helped in the
clearance of three ports at Hachinohe, Miyako and Oshima/Kesennuma.
In his remarks on USS Ronald Reagan, Defense Minister Kitizawa stated
"I have never been more encouraged by or proud of the fact that the
United States is our ally."
Seventh Fleet commander Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, said, "But the
fact is, as an American, I have never been more proud of the fact that
Japan is our ally. As the Japan Self Defense Forces have operated under
intense physical and emotional stress, they've been at their best,
never wavering in their focus, in their devotion to the mission, and in
their sense of duty to the nation they serve."
Amidst mountains of rubble, cries of both joy and anguish, moments of
appreciation and thanks, the people of Japan have started the process
of rebuilding. As that effort has moved ashore, the 7th Fleet has moved
on to other tasking, helping to defend Japan and maintain peace and
stability around the region.
(Source: U.S. 7th Fleet Facebook page)