MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The crew of High Speed Vessel Westpac Express arrived here, March 22, from Pohang, South Korea with more than 230 tons of palletized bottled water, which is scheduled to be transported via KC-130J aircraft from here to Sendai, Japan, in support of Operation Tomodachi.
Operation Tomodachi is a joint humanitarian assistance operation implemented by the U.S. Armed Forces and Japan to provide aid, following the approximately 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Tohoku region of northern Japan, March 11.
After the tsunami advisory, the third highest level tsunami alert from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, HSV Westpac Express was tasked with supporting Operation Tomodachi in addition to providing transportation of personnel and gear to exercise Foal Eagle 2011.
“Our schedule has been so crazy,” said Kanoa Parker, HSV WestPac Express captain. “We have been running pretty hard since (March 11), but that is to be expected with something like this. With all the logistics and planning, we really have to be versatile.”
Despite a hectic schedule, HSV Westpac Express was able to meet the demand for aid in a timely manner. The HSV arrived here previously, March 16, to drop off 450 tons of cargo and supplies brought from Naha, Okinawa. Upon arrival here, the HSV unloaded and delegated cargo to be transported to Pohang, South Korea.
In Pohang, cargo from the exercise was picked up and transported back to the station with 230 pallets of bottled water to aid relief operations.
The HSV Westpac Express crew is happy to be a part of the relief efforts, said Parker.
“From all of our crew members, our prayers go out to those affected,” he added.
Marine units such as Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 and Combat Logistics Company 36, with the help of Japanese civilian contractors, were tasked with unloading hundreds of tons of cargo and supplies, loading them onto 7-ton trucks and transporting the loads to the flightline. Once the cargo was further coordinated and loaded onto KC-130 aircraft, it was shipped to the Tohoku region of northern Japan.
CLC-36 had plans to participate in exercise Foal Eagle 2011, but took on a new mission to fully focus on Operation Tomodachi.
“We have been really busy, putting in a lot of work,” said Cpl. Emmanuel Rosario, CLC-36 supply administration and operations specialist. “Whatever we can do, we’re here. We’re happy to be a part of this.”
Marines from CLC-36 were put on standby with the possibility of being sent closer to affected areas to lend a hand in the relief efforts.
“Everyone’s got their bags packed – (field equipment) gear is ready to go,” Rosario said. “We’re ready.”
Immediately following the disaster, station Harbor Operations became a vital staging point for incoming and outgoing support to include thousands of tons of essential military gear, supplies, food and water.
“We’re doing all we can to support the efforts,” said Petty Officer 1st Class George Payumo, harbor navigator. “It’s been a pretty quick response overall.”
Since relief efforts began, more than 1.5 million pounds of food, water, cargo, supplies and equipment have been prepared and transported via air, land and sea to support affected areas of northern Japan.