PACIFIC OCEAN (April 4, 2011) – Japan Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa accepts a banner of goodwill sent from the families of Joint Support Force members during a visit to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). During his visit, the Defense Minister expressed his appreciation to the service members on board for the assistance the U.S. military provided following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (U.S. Navy Photo)

USS BLUE RIDGE, At Sea (April 4, 2011) - The Defense Minister of Japan, Toshimi Kitazawa, and other senior officials of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) visited the USS Ronal Reagan (CVN 76) today 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 appreciated how USS Ronald Reagan immediately rushed to the Sanriku area after the earthquake and tsunami and said that “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 member working hard to support the relief efforts. Both Japan and the United States are true “TOMODACHI” (friends).”

U.S. Ambassador to Japan, the Honorable John Roos; Adm. Patrick Walsh, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Joint Support Forces commander; and Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet were among the U.S. dignitaries in attendance to accept Mr. Kitazawa and the JSDF delegation. Both the Ambassador and Adm. Walsh also addressed the Sailors and Marines gathered in the hanger bay of the aircraft carrier to thank them for their selfless service to help the JSDF and the Japanese people following the tragedies on March 11.

Also today, Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) continued Operation Field Day, the mission to support Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) in the clean up of the remote island of Oshima, off the coast of Kessnnuma. The island has been isolated since March 11 when the tsunami washed its ferries ashore. The team continued clean up efforts on the shores of the Uranohama harbor and began clean up efforts on the shores of the Yogai and Komagata harbors.

USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), USS Tortuga (LSD 46), Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 and Underwater Construction Team 2 arrived at Oshima today to assist Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) with clearing the debris within the waters of the harbors. Landing Craft Utilities (LCUs) and small boats equipped with side scan sonar began scanning the Uranohama harbor to determine locations of underwater hazards and obstacles and divers marked the locations for salvage operations.

Currently 14 ships, 130 aircraft and 12,510 personnel are actively engaged in Operation Tomodachi. Those ships include USS Tortuga (LSD 46), USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), USS Cowpens (CG 63), USS Shiloh (CG 67), USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4), USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USNS Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9), USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE 7)and USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204).

Since Operation Tomodachi started, U.S. 7th Fleet forces have delivered more than 260 tons of relief supplies to survivors of the tsunami and earthquake and flown 160+ aerial reconnaissance and search sorties.

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