YOKOSUKA, 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 Defense Force. The following is a day-by-day account of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s involvement in Operation Tomodachi.
March 11: 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 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.
March 12: 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.
March 13: 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.
March 14: 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 Hokkaido.
March 15: 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 and vehicles.
March 16: 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 Fukushima.
March 17: 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.
March 18: 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.
March 19: 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 sites.
March 20: 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.
March 21: 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 them. 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.
March 22: 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.
March 23: 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.
March 24: 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.
March 25: 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.
March 26: 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.
March 27: 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.
March 28: 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.
March 29: 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 be retrieved.
March 30: 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.
March 31: 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.
April 1: 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 ashore.
April 2: 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.
April 3: 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.
April 4: 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).”
April 5: 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.
April 6-8: 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.
In conclusion: 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.