On 19 March, more than 90 members of the Joint Task Force assigned to my headquarters departed Hawaii with very little notice and traveled to Yokota Air Base, Japan. There was nothing that we could have done to prepare ourselves for what we were about to see. The tectonic forces that moved the Eurasian Plate affected the tilt of the earth’s axis, lowered the Northeast Honshu coastline by more than a meter, and displaced Japan by seven feet. The damage, the loss of life, and the series of cascading casualties that followed (to include explosions and fires in a nuclear power plant, and more than 400 aftershocks) were apocalyptic in magnitude, description, and effect for the prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi.
In times of crisis, in the hour of tragedy, at the moment of calamity, we learn about ourselves and about the brotherhood of humanity. If ever there was a time and place to learn about commitment to your fellow man, then “...come to Japan...” where more people came to assist the people of Japan than who departed the nation to avoid the damage caused by the earthquake, tsunami, and radioactive contamination&ellips;where 20,000 U.S. servicemen and women, 22 ships -- the majority of which are our forward deployed naval forces, deployed to support Japan, and 140 aircraft provided 189 tons of food, 2.0 million gallons of water, and 87 tons of relief supplies to augment the Japanese relief effort. By any and every measure, the actions taken and work done by the Japan Self-Defense Force has been heroic&ellips;where record numbers of citizens mobilized&ellips;to rescue, to find the missing, and to sustain the living. Despite incalculable personal loss and grieving for their own loved ones, their missing relatives, and their destroyed communities, the Self-Defense Force continues to carry a deep sense of personal honor and responsibility to see this mission to its completion.
If ever there was a time and place to witness where the wrath of nature has met the best of humanity&ellips;then “come to Sendai&ellips;” where the chaos of the sea confronted the orderly life of the city...where a giant wave churned and pushed itself 6.5 miles inland and then pulled everything within its grasp out to sea. Where every man-made object, regardless of size, weight, or setting moved to the most unlikely, unpredictable, and implausible locations&ellips;tossed without regard to dimension or girth – and created a confused picture of commercial tankers on land along with homes and automobiles out to sea. But also, where the same powerful wave summoned an equally powerful force – the essential purity and resolute spirit of the Japanese people, possessed of the wish for peace and security, yet emotionally resolved to meet any challenge – and commit themselves for the rest of their lives to build a future for their children, with politeness, patience, and prudence.
And if ever there was a time and place to witness an impressive operation, to witness a team in action, to witness heartfelt contribution without concern for credit, come to “Tomodachi&ellips;” where the USS Ronald Reagan strike group joined forces with Yokosuka sailors, Okinawa Marines, Zama soldiers, and Yokota and Misawa airmen&ellips;with more than 50 Non-Governmental Organizations, the ministries in the Government of Japan, the Self-Defense Force, USAID, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Chemical, Biological Initial Response Force from US NORTHCOM, and many others, in a unified effort on behalf of our friends. While none of us could have prepared for this specific mission, the mark of an impressive organization is to learn and grow under fire, during crisis conditions, and adapt, improvise, and in this case, pivot from humanitarian assistance to missions in response to the nuclear disaster -- to fight the fear of the unknown and the invisible&ellips;with a force that can land on its feet within hours of an unprecedented crisis, and prove by its actions, what it means to be a friend.
America's armed forces demonstrated the value of forward presence and agility. Our men and women adapted to challenging and unpredictable operating conditions......each and every service member performed in a manner that reflected the rigorous discipline of training and readiness standards that is the hallmark of the U.S. military. When Defense Minister Kitizawa visited REAGAN, he conveyed the personal gratitude of the Japanese Prime Minister to the US armed forces for their remarkable, timely, and sustained support and added, “Your warm help will be cherished and forever engrained in the hearts and souls of the Japanese people."
In the past week, I postured the command for continued support to Operation Tomodachi and moved from a surge approach with people and resources to one that is more sustainable; we began a rotation of people as well as the phased redeployment of my headquarters staff to their home stations. The Commander of U.S. Forces in Japan, Burt Field, (LTG, USAF) has assumed additional responsibilities as the Commander of the Joint Support Force from his headquarters at Yokota Air Base.
As I write this note to you, I am returning to Hawaii after long-standing speaking engagements in Dallas and San Diego. In each place, I was struck by the enthusiastic interest of members of the armed forces as well as those in the community who value and respect the service of those in uniform. While I am humbled to hear the gratitude of so many, I would offer that the interesting part about service...is oftentimes, you do not realize that you are actually doing it&ellips;you do not wake up in the morning and think about your life’s work in those terms. Instead, you think about what you can do for people, how you can help in their development, how you can make a difference in the world around them, how you can support an important goal or mission and live a life of consequence&ellips;a life that matters.
The people of Japan have taught us -- the personal satisfaction and psychic income that we receive from serving gives us the greater benefit for the act that we provide to others. Simply put, we are the beneficiary. It puts into action the phrase President Lyndon Baines Johnson coined when he said, “Ours is not a spectator society.” Those who choose to serve&ellips;play on the line of scrimmage and refuse to take a seat in the stands. In the days that follow, I will continue to support the work of the Joint Support Force with forces available in the event of further crises. I will always be grateful for work and the people associated with this extraordinary mission. Thank you, my friends, for the honor and opportunity to stand for all that you represent.