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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Reopening of the Sendai Airport

Air Force Colonel Robert Toth, Commander, Joint Force Special Operations Componenet Joint Support Force - Operation Tomodachi
New York, NY
April 15, 2011

11:00 A.M., EDT
Teleconference Briefing

MODERATOR: Good morning to those in D.C., and we want to just give a sincere appreciation of Colonel Toth, who – it’s midnight in Japan right now and he’s been willing to stay up and talk about the mission of opening Sendai airport. So, sir, we have – my goodness, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven – eight journalists here in New York and several in D.C. as well. And so we hand it over to you for introductory remarks, talking about the mission of the airport and your unit.

And then I will moderate this call, I will probably initiate with two questions in New York, and then I will offer it back over to D.C. D.C., as we’ve experienced, your microphone is quite sensitive, so please mute that until it’s time for your question, and then we will just bounce back and forth until everybody is finished.

So with that, sir, I open it up to you for your opening remarks, and then we’ll continue with the call.

COL TOTH: Okay, great. Well, thank you. This is Colonel Robert Toth from the United States Air Force. And currently, I serve as the commander of the 353rd Special Operations Group assigned to Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa, Japan.

I want to thank all of you for the opportunity to talk with you today and provide you an overview of the Air Force and Pacific Special Operations Command Support for Operation Tomodachi, which were the relief operations on the island of Honshu following the earthquake and tsunami on the 11th of March. I appreciate this opportunity and I look forward to discussing any questions you may have.

First, before I begin, I’d like to express my sincere condolences to the people of Japan. The tragic loss of life and community caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake has forever changed Japan and its people, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Japanese people during this very challenging period.

Although there was a tremendous amount of destruction on the island of Honshu, I will tell you that each United States service member that was present was encouraged by the strength and resiliency of the Japanese people. And the people of Japan throughout gave all of us hope for Japan’s future. I believe they have a very bright future as they recover from this disaster. And from our homes on Okinawa, we continue to lend our support. Although we repositioned back on Okinawa, we remain ready in response to requests for assistance from the Government of Japan if they should come in the future.

During Operation Tomodachi, I served as the commander of the Joint Force Special Operations component for the Joint Support Force. In this position, I served as the commander of all United States Special Operations Forces from the Air Force, Army, and Navy, supporting Operation Tomodachi. Under my command was own unit, the 353rd Special Operations Group from Kadena Air Base and the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group from Torii Station here on Okinawa as well. Additionally, I had Naval Special Warfare personnel from Unit 1 in Guam.

At the time of the earthquake on the 11th of March, our Okinawa-based unit, the 353rd Special Operations Group, was actually participating in an annual bilateral special operations exercise in the Republic of Korea. In total, we had 346 of our 758 personnel deployed to Korea, along with all of our six MC-130s forward there in Daegu Air Base, Republic of Korea.

Less than 24 hours after the earthquake, we began repositioning forces on the main island of Honshu in Japan. In all, we moved forward three aircraft and over 180 personnel from Korea to Yokota Air Base to provide direct support for Operation Tomodachi. Additionally, we continued to support Operation Tomodachi and the exercise in Korea with three MC-130s and 166 personnel from Korea.

Additionally, we deployed one light-mobility aircraft, a PC-12 from the Philippines to Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo to help provide light-mobility support for our special operations forces. Finally, we had one additional MC-130 that was coming out of depot maintenance at Yokota. And within about the first 48 hours, it joined operations as well. In all, we had seven MC-130s and one PC-12, and upwards of 350 personnel supporting Operation Tomodachi on the mainland or from Korea.

As we pressed forward, arriving on the 12th of March, we initially began search-and-rescue operations in conjunction with MH-60s from the 18th wing here at Kadena Air Base in the area of Sendai and also north of Sendai from Yokota Air Base. On the 13th through the 15th, we continued to provide search-and-rescue operations while also conducting aerial surveys of local air fields, primarily Yamagata Air Base, Matsushima Air Base, Hanamaki Air Base, and also Sendai Airport.

As we conducted those assessments, Yamagata Air Field and Hanamaki Air Field were largely undisturbed by the earthquake and tsunami. However, Matsushima had significant damage to its runways, with significant debris covering the runways and the air field. And, Sendai, as most people are aware, was still underwater up to three days after the tsunami, with about seven feet of water on the air field on the 13th of March, when we did our aerial surveys.

However, we identified very quickly that Sendai was probably the number one priority for opening up relief operations in order to get aid delivered right to the heart of the most affected area there in Miyagi Prefecture. And so we concentrated on coming up with a concept of operations for actually getting into Sendai Airport and opening that airport in cooperation with the Japanese Government and Japanese authorities there in Sendai.

We spent most of the day on the 14th of March and 15th of March building our plan and receiving approval from U.S. Forces Japan on the 14th of March. And then the 15th of March was largely spent coordinating actions through the Japanese Self-Defense Force, the Civil Aviation Bureau, and also the Sendai Airport authority.

We very closely coordinated all the requirements for getting into Matsushima Air Field and also Sendai Airport with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, who greatly enabled our ability to conduct operations to open up Sendai Airport on the 16th of March. The mission to reopen Matsushima and Sendai Airport to fixed-wing aircraft began on March 16th slightly before 5:00 a.m., and by 7:00 a.m., we had landed our first aircraft at Matsushima Air Base, linked up with Japanese Air Self-Defense Force members, and established air traffic control of the air field there at Matsushima.

Additionally, we rallied 21 of our personnel, along with Japanese Air Self-Defense Force escorts, and formed a convoy of two Humvees and a van, and drove from Matsushima Air Base to Sendai Airport, which was about a 90-minute drive through the town of Sendai.

Upon arrival at Sendai Airport, we were met by members of the Sendai Airport Authority and also the Civil Aviation Bureau, who coordinated actions there on the airfield to allow us to focus on clearing 5,000 feet of runway, gaining access to some heavy equipment that was on the field, and actually reprioritized work that was going on at the airport for recovery operations to clear the initial 5,000 feet of runway to allow us to bring in the initial humanitarian relief supplies into the airport there at Sendai.

That’s – that all occurred roughly between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. in the morning there at Sendai. We arrived there at Sendai roughly at 8:00 a.m. in the morning, and by 10:00 a.m., we had 5,000 feet of runway cleared, primarily being worked by Japanese workers that were there at the field and our Air Force Combat Controllers.

By 11 o’clock, we had established air traffic control capability at the airport, using our portable systems, and by 11 o’clock, Sendai Airport was open for the first 5,000 feet of runway to military traffic. Nearly about the same time, we began relief operations into Matsushima Air Field, delivering the initial supplies of humanitarian aid into Matsushima, primarily consisted of food, water, and blankets. And for the next 24 hours at Matsushima Air Field, we provided air traffic control services to allow relief flights into Matsushima until they were able to restore their air traffic control services the following day. And then the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force resumed control of tower operations and we departed Matsushima Air Base and refocused on Sendai Air Field.

While we were at Sendai, the morning of the 16th between 10:00 a.m. and roughly 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we coordinated with the Airport Authority and the Civil Aviation Bureau to identify a prioritized list of items that were needed to continue relief operations and recovery operations at the air field, and also initial humanitarian relief supplies that were needed there at the air field for – in the immediate area. Over those four hours, we coordinated with the logistics personnel back at Yokota Air Base to secure those items and build those pallets to be delivered to Sendai Airport.

And by 1500, or 3 o’clock in the afternoon that day, we landed the first MC-130 into Sendai Airport and offloaded a forklift and initial relief supplies into Sendai Airport. Over the next roughly five or six hours, we had three other aircraft fly into Sendai Airport delivering generators, lights, diesel fuel, gasoline, food, water, blankets, and medical supply items to the airport to sustain initial operations there at the airport for the following day. And by the end of the 16th of March, we had pretty much full-up operations going on there are Sendai Airport, in close coordination with the Japanese authorities at the airport.

For the next five days, roughly from the 16th through the 20th, we worked round the clock with the Japanese authorities there at the airport from the Ministry of Transportation, Civil Aviation Bureau, and also the Airport Authority to prioritize work, to focus on clearing the rest of the runway. And by the late – on the 19th of March, we had the majority of the runway cleared as far as the length goes. However, the entire width was not available. That became available the following day on the 20th, which allowed us to open up the airport to C-17 aircraft, which are much larger than a C-130, and they were able to actually start accelerating delivery of relief supplies into the area starting on the 20th.

The 20th of March actually marked the arrival of the first two C-17s into the airport, and from then on, we accelerated relief operations at the air field. The following day, the 21st of March, marked another significant milestone for the recovery effort there at Sendai Airport. That was the day that we brought in elements from the United States Marines, Marine Task Force Fuji, which is stationed there in Honshu, and also Marines of Combat Logistics Regiment 35, from the 3rd Marine Logistics Group here on Okinawa, arrived along with the Army’s Logistics Task Force 35, which is part of the 10th Support Group from Okinawa.

And they joined operations there at the airport to provide logistical support. Also, they had upwards of 40 vehicles, forklifts, large vehicles, trucks to remove debris from the air field. And once they partnered up with the Japanese personnel that were working heavy equipment at the air field, they focused on clearing all of the debris from the airfield and moving logistics from the aircraft to the convoys that deliver them to the relief centers while the United States Air Force personnel continued to provide air traffic control services at the airfield.

And what this did for us, and what it did for the Japanese authorities that were working at the air field, was allowed us to build a bilateral coordination team between the Japanese authorities and the United States authorities to focus on building a transition plan of how we would conduct recovery operations at the airport and also restore infrastructure critical to supporting civilian aviation at the airport over time, and built a transition plan of when United States personnel would withdraw from the airport and continue to transfer over capabilities to the Japanese authorities as their infrastructure was restored or replaced at the air field.

In all, we had about 270 U.S. Air Force, Marines, and Army soldiers there at the air field, working alongside our Japanese partners. I’ve been told that somewhere in the neighborhood of over 300 tons of materials were removed from the airport, all the way from vehicles, trees, parts of houses or full houses that had been washed across the air field, along with the yards and yards of mud and other debris that was scattered across the airport.

From the 11th of March through the 4th of April, the 353rd Special Operations Group flew a total of 161 missions, logging over 244 hours to transport over 500 personnel and 878,000 pounds of relief supplies and transferred over 185,000 pounds of fuel in support of Operation Tomodachi, primarily at the Sendai Airport, Yamagata Airport, and also Matsushima Field.

In the short period from the 16th of March, when we opened up Sendai Airport, through the 6th of April, members of the 353rd Special Operations Group, our 320th Special Tactics Squadron Combat Controllers, controlled over 250 aircraft at Sendai Airport. And those were predominantly from the United States military, but also from the Japanese Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force C-17s that flew in and out of Sendai Airport. In all, we processed 517 relief personnel, 2.5 million pounds of relief supplies, and over 15,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel through Sendai Airport in that short period of time from 16 March to 6 April.

Now, I will tell you that our efforts there on Honshu really pale in comparison to the effort put forward by the people of Japan. And when we departed, it was clear that the struggle there continued for the Japanese people in the vicinity of Sendai Airport. The Japanese people have put forth a tremendous effort in the midst of struggling for survival and searching for those lost.

But we are very proud and honored, all U.S. military forces that participated in Operation Tomodachi there at Sendai Airport, all the missions that we conducted. We are all stationed here in Japan on either the islands of Honshu or Okinawa. And I think I can speak for all of them when I say it was our honor to help the people of Japan, who are our hosts, our friends, and our neighbors.

And throughout this entire operation, the Japanese Self-Defense Force, led by Colonel Makoto Kasamatsu at the airport, who is the Commander of Sendai Airport for the bilateral coordination team there for the Japanese Self-Defense Force, did a wonderful job leading the effort in coordinating all the actions at Sendai Airport between the United States military and the civilian authorities and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

Additionally, as far as what we learned throughout this entire operation is that many of the skills that we practice in coordination with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and Japanese Self-Defense Force on a routine basis here in Okinawa were easily transferred over to facilitate the opening of Sendai Airport. These are skills that we practice not only for wartime capability, but also for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

And it definitely paid off, all the training that we do day in and day out. The Japanese, their Self-Defense Force, can’t say enough about their support in enabling our mission at Matsushima Air Base and supporting our movement to Sendai Airport, and their ability to partner with us and provide air traffic control at Matsushima once they were able to restore their facilities there.

As far as other items that are of note, this, I think at the end of the day, was probably one of the most successful missions that I’ve been a part of in my 22 years in the military, probably one of the most rewarding in my 22 years in the military. And just today, I received an email to share a bit of a note with you all there. I got word that there was a Tohoku University Hospital patient who needed an organ transplant there in the Sendai area. And because the Sendai Airport reopened on the 14th of March, the organ was able to be flown from a hospital near Kanto-Koshinetsu to Sendai Airport, and then to Tohoku University Hospital in less than two hours.

This was a story that was relayed to me along with a thank you to the U.S. military for assisting the Japanese in opening Sendai Airport, for making the life-saving operation possible. And I think that really sums up the significance of Sendai Airport and what was achieved between the Japanese and the United States there at Sendai Airport, to open up again the Miyagi Prefecture and that part of Honshu to the world and restore the International Airport to a bit of capability, and will continue accelerating throughout the future.

And if – I guess I will leave it there. Hopefully, that didn’t go too fast or cover too much. And I will stand by for any questions that you all may have.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, excellent work. So we’ll start here in New York. If there’s any questions, just make eye contact. Okay. Please state your name and organization, so – we are recording it for transcription in the future.

QUESTION: Yes. My name is Sawa from Kyoto News, Japan newswire. First of all, I would like to appreciate you – offer you a description for your effort. My question is, I’m just wondering if you could describe – if I could ask you if you found this opportunity to improve the acknowledgement of U.S. military in Japan?

COL TOTH: Oh, if I understand your question right, it’s: How would we improve the acknowledgment of the U.S. military in Japan?


COL TOTH: Is that correct?

QUESTION: Yes, because I’m just – can I interrupt you? Because in terms of the relationship of Japan and the U.S. military, there are so many – there’s much controversy over the existence of U.S. bases in Japan.

COL TOTH: Yes, I understand your question. I think that the continued relationship between the United States and Japan and our alliance, which I believe is the strongest alliance that the United States has, is with the – our partners in Japan – and I believe that over time, working through mutual exercises and mutual operations such as what took place here in Japan in itself takes care of solidifying that relationship.

I think that each one of the members of the media throughout this process also help with that, getting stories out like this, where largely the Japanese were in the lead of the operation and we just simply enabled there – them to be more effective as a joint team. And I think as those stories get out and we see how we can not only have a mutual alliance for defense, we also have a mutual alliance to help each other in a time of need.

I know that Japanese personnel came to the United States to aid the United States following Katrina. And the opportunity to do like for our partners there in Japan – and also, as I said earlier, our hosts, our friends, and our neighbors for all of the people that are stationed here in Japan, I think continue to build that bond and continue to show that there’s more to this alliance and the United States being stationed in Japan than just mutual defense.

QUESTION: Thank you. And additionally, do you think that you – this kind of – your perception of this alliance, is this accepted by general public of Japan?

COL TOTH: Well, I can’t really speak to that, but my – in a greater sense. But I know that with the people that I interact with, the Japanese people here on Okinawa and also the personnel that I interacted with up on the island of Honshu, we received very warm support from the people of Japan, and I have never run into any kind of unpleasant situations with the people of Japan. It has always been a very warm, friendly relationship and very welcoming for our forces here on Okinawa, and also when we are participating in operations up on Honshu as well.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am grateful for you. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. We have another question in New York.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Atsuko Miwa from TV Asahi. First, I’d like to thank you for your assistance in this situation. And my question is you that mentioned that coordination between U.S. Air Force and the Japanese Self-Defense Force worked really well, even not only at a wartime, like this disaster relief operation. But is there anything that still needs to be improved?

COL TOTH: I’m sorry. I missed the end of your question.

QUESTION: If there is anything – if it should be improved?

COL TOTH: No, I would say probably the biggest thing that we learned, and we have always learned in most operations such as this, is that the relationships that we build before a crisis are essential in making sure that the crises are handled the most effective way. So working together closely between the United States Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, or the Japanese Self-Defense Force or ground forces is crucial to continue to exercise and work continuously.

And that not only provides training and ability to support wartime operations, but in a situation like this, it greatly enhanced our ability to get authorities and approval to conduct operations, because we knew exactly who to call, we knew exactly what positions were the most important, and had those relationships already established so that we could quickly gain access to the people at the appropriate levels to give us access and authority to execute the mission either via the Embassy or directly through the Japanese – the Japan Air Self-Defense Force or the Japanese Self-Defense Force directly.

So I think our presence here in Japan greatly assisted our ability to integrate very closely and quickly with the Japanese military and even the Japanese civilian authorities, because we live here and we know the structure of the Japanese Government and also the Japanese military to the point where we could easily communicate our needs and our requirements, and get approvals to actually go and help where it was needed.

QUESTION: I had just one additional question. Just one additional question: What is the most difficult part of your operation?

COL TOTH: I’d say probably the most difficult part was that when we got to Sendai Airport, initially the Japanese authorities were focused on recovery operations and merely cleaning certain sections of the airport required to conduct recovery and search operations. I don’t believe they really at the beginning thought that they would open up Sendai Airport rather quickly, and so their focus was on clean-up operations, whereas we were focused on opening up part of the airport to be able to come in and provide relief.

As we focused on cleaning up the airport, we actually started moving much faster than what we had planned as to where to put the debris. And what we found initially was that until we built a plan that was coordinated, we were actually moving debris from one area of airfield that we needed open to another part of the airfield that a day or two later we had to move the debris again. And I think initially building the plan of how we were going to clean the entire airport at Sendai was the hardest part. It was just coming up with pulling out a map of the airport and building a plan to systematically clean the airfield to where we knew what the priorities were and also as needed to reestablish air traffic there at the airport.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Offering up questioners in D.C. We’ll take two.

QUESTION: Good evening, Colonel. This is Nico Pandi from Jiji Press. Thanks for the call and for all of your support in this operation. I want to ask you about an article that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times in which you’re quoted regarding some of the special cultural sensitivities that your group has had to keep in mind so as to not, sort of speak upstage, the Japanese authorities. I was wondering if you could kind of expand a little bit about what those sensitivities might be and how it’s caused your operation to be different than in other parts of the world where you cannot get similar reconstruction efforts. Thank you.

COL TOTH: Yes. Actually, as far as that particular quote goes, that was made by, I believe, Colonel Rubino from the Marine Corps. But what I believe he was trying to say is that in this particular operation we were here at the request of the Japanese Government and everything that we were doing was in support of the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the joint task force Tohoku, which was led by General Kimizuka, Lieutenant General Kimizuka, of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force. And the one thing that was stressed to us and that we definitely followed was that this was a Japanese operation, and we were in a supporting role, and we were there to enable our Japanese partners to search for their lost and recover their lost and also provide relief operations and also life-sustainment operations during the first couple phases of the operation, and then to later transition onto recovery operations, clean-up operations.

And I believe with Colonel Rubino meant to say was that throughout this thing we were very conscious of the fact that we were there in a supporting role and a partnership role with the Japanese and that we followed their lead. We did not step out in front and do anything that wasn’t at the request of the Japanese Government, and I believe that was the point that he was trying to make throughout the operations.

QUESTION: So when you said it was stressed to you, was that stressed to you by the Japanese authorities that you would be in the supporting role?

COL TOTH: No. It wasn’t stressed by the Japanese authorities. I believe it was just from the U.S. military’s perspective we very much knew that we were there at the request of the Japanese Government to support the Japanese Government and that this wasn’t an operation where we had the lead. And I think it was just generally understood and discussed amongst the military leaders that were involved that we were there to help support the Japanese and in that supporting role, we were very aware that they had the lead and that we would follow their leadership.

QUESTION: Thank you.

COL TOTH: Yes, sir.

MODERATOR: Another question?

QUESTION: Colonel, this is Scott Stewart with Sankei Shimbun. I have a small detailed question about the – when you arrived at Matsushima, I read in one account that the Humvees and the special operations group arrived by air drop, that –

COL TOTH: Yes. That’s incorrect.

QUESTION: Okay. You didn’t drop Humvees.

COL TOH: No. We did not. We actually landed there at Matsushima Airfield. They have two runways. The main runway was still covered with significant debris and was closed. There was about 4,900-foot airstrip that was largely clear of debris. We coordinated with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force to clear some of that debris from the runway and they were actually able to come in and land and offload those Humvees and the personnel after landing there at Matsushima. And those Humvees, along with some vehicles and escorts provided by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force at Matsushima provided the convoy over to Sendai Airport.

QUESTION: So Humvees came in by helicopter?

COL TOTH: No, by C-130.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

COL TOTH: We used – on the 16th of March, we used four MC-130s from the three 353rd Special Operations Group to conduct operations at Matsushima and Sendai Airport.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

COL TOTH: But Sendai Airport on the 16th was still covered with far too much debris to safely land any airplanes at Sendair Airport, and so that’s why we found Matsushima Airport was relatively close to Sendai, and we used that as a staging base to land our initial vehicles and personnel and drive over to Sendai. And then, once we were able to clear a significant portion of the runway, we were able to actually land C-130s later that day at Sendai and then bring in heavier equipment and additional personnel and relief supplies to be able to finish clearing the airfield and actually bring it up to the state where it was – where it is today.

The big milestones that I forgot to mention, too, were that on the first of April was when we actually transitioned all air traffic control service from U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers back over to Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau members that were controlling air traffic services from a mobile tower on Sendai Airport. And from the first of April, up to about the 6th of April, our combat controllers worked side by side with the Japanese air traffic controllers to control airplanes coming in and out of the airfield. And on the 6th of April, the majority of the U.S. personnel from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines actually departed Sendai Airport, and only left behind a small contingent of U.S. Army personnel that were providing logistics support in the form of bathrooms, generator power, and some water to the Japanese authorities that were still working there at the airport, and also handled some logistics support for additional relief operations that were coming in. And as all of you know, on the 13th of April was when the first commercial aircraft all began to land again at Sendai Airport. I believe at 8 a.m. in the morning, the first commercial aircraft landed there at Sendai Airport. And as of right now, there’s only a handful of U.S. military personnel there, U.S. Army, and they are soon transferring out as well.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

COL TOTH: Yes, sir.

MODERATOR: Okay, back to New York. Any questioners here? Okay, yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Colonel. This is Atsuko Miwa from TV Asahi again. At the very beginning of this operation, did you expect that you were going to reopen the Sendai Airport in two weeks or do you think it will take much longer?

COL TOTH: Well, from – I think probably our initial vision of what was going to be achieved was much smaller than what became reality. At the beginning, we believed very much so that we could open up at least a portion of Sendai Airport the very first day. When we briefed our leadership and also the Japanese authorities, our goal was to have the first 5,000 feet of runway open by mid-afternoon on the 16th of March. We were actually able to open it up by 11 o’clock in the morning. And that was largely because when we arrived at the airport, we found Japanese workers already at the airport with some heavy equipment in the form of bulldozers and forklifts, and we were able to secure their assistance in helping us clear very large items from the runway. If we had not had their assistance, it probably would have taken us several days to clear the runway. And because we did have them there and partnered with them, we were able to get the first 5,000 feet open that day and begin immediately providing relief operations into Sendai.

I will say that we thought that it would take much longer than four days to clear the entire runway because there were several thousand vehicles on the runway, along with houses and other very large items that we thought would take weeks to get off of the runway. But again, the Japanese personnel that were there at the airfield worked around the clock to remove those vehicles and prioritize their effort on clearing the runway to allow us to bring in larger strategic airplanes that could bring in significantly more relief supplies quicker than we thought.

Now, my understanding from talking to Colonel Kasamatsu and the civil aviation authorities there at the airfield were that they didn’t believe that the airfield would be opened up for quite a long time for civilian traffic. In fact, a lot of people in the area had somewhat written off Sendai Airport ever being used again for commercial air traffic, and definitely did not expect it to happen this quick. But I believe there was a bit of mutual motivation between the United States military and the Japanese civilians and the Japanese Self-Defense Force that were working there at the airport. And the harder the other worked, the more it inspired future work.

And once we brought in the entire team of Marines, Army personnel, Air Force, and Japanese Self-Defense Force, we could quickly clean that runway in a little over three weeks. And the pictures – the overhead pictures of Sendai Airport today, from what was seen on the 11th and 12th of March, you will find it hard to believe you’re looking at the same airport. Within the boundaries of the airport, it very much looks like it did prior to March 11th. That’s from the air. Now on the ground, I will say that there is still significant damage to the terminal that is being repaired. But largely, the grounds that we support, the runway, and the key infrastructure is restored to the way it was prior to the tsunami sweeping over the airfield, which is absolutely impressive. And I would say the majority of the credit goes to the people of Japan who were working there on the airfield with the equipment when we arrived. We assisted their work, but they really did the lion’s share of the work there at the airport.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Okay, another questioner here in New York.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Sachiko Deshimaru, Nikkei. Thank you very much for doing this. I’d like to ask, how was the interoperability between U.S. force and Japanese Self-Defense? Do you have any advice or views to improve or – improve our coordination for future cooperation between us?

COL TOTH: I think the interoperability between us was very good. I think that this was a unique situation, being a humanitarian crisis that took place in the host nation of Japan, and working with the host nation Self-Defense forces was different than if we were in a combat operation or working, say, in a humanitarian situation in another country, a third-party country. But I think that our relationship in this particular environment allowed us to really delineate duties between the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the United States military to where the Japanese Self-Defense Force focused on operations that were priorities to them and priorities that were to be dealt with by the Japanese while they focused us on some operations that were uniquely tailored for the U.S. military and allowed them to really focus on what was their priority. And one of the key examples is that it was very important to the Japanese people to be the lead on recovering their lost people during the tsunami.

By the U.S. military focusing on things like providing air traffic control services, providing relief operations into airports, cleanup operations, it allowed the Japanese Self-Defense Force to actually go out and conduct the recovery operations themselves. It allowed the Japanese Self-Defense Force to provide the aid directly to the Japanese people. It allowed the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the Japanese Government to be the primary personnel supporting the Japanese people. The United States military, by providing a supporting role, was able to bring in relief supplies and provide logistics support, to be able to pre-position those supplies and equipment that were needed by the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the Japanese Government to assist their people the way that they knew how and the way that they could and the way they should for – throughout the operation. And I think that partnership between the United States military and the Japanese government and the Japanese Self-Defense Force enabled that to be a very seamless operation and making sure that the primary focus was on Japan, supporting Japan, and the United States helping Japan accomplish that goal.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We will offer up two more questions in D.C. (Inaudible) one second. Back to Washington.

QUESTION: Hello. Masato Kaiho from Mainichi Newspapers. What was the most dramatic and impressive experience you have during your stay?

COL TOTH: I think probably the most dramatic experience I had, aside – and I will say that first viewing the destruction and devastation that was caused by the tsunami was probably the most dramatic experience. I’ve been involved in numerous operations around the world, combat operations around the world over the past 22 years and also significant humanitarian disasters, but I would say that the scale of devastation and destruction that was caused by the earthquake and tsunami was something beyond imagination. And I think that unless you were actually on the ground seeing it in person, it is hard to put into words the level of destruction.

But I think probably the most impressive thing that I saw, again, was the work ethic and the focus of the Japanese people to recover their country. And they worked around the clock and took the lead, and kept everything very orderly and very focused, cleaning up and recovering the areas that were destroyed by the tsunami. And I was amazed at watching people who were not only focused on fixing things there in Japan, but they were also the victims. And to me, it was quite impressive to see people who were victims focused on working around the clock to also recover for the rest of the people of Japan out in front and making sure that things were getting better day by day.

One of the things that struck me the most and – on nearly the last day that was going through Sendai Airport – I believe it was somewhere around the 3rd of April – as I was coming into Sendai Airport – you actually cross over the beach coming into Sendai Airport. And I glanced down on the beach, which was about a quarter mile from touching down on the runway from the MC-130 that was flying in, and noticed that somebody from the local community there had drug trees that where somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 20 to 30 feet long out to the beach. And these were either large palm trees or pine trees, and they had spelled out in block letters arigato on the beach, the Japanese word for thank you. And this word was placed there where only airmen flying into the airfield would see it. And it struck me immediately that here people who were in the middle of all this suffering and working as hard, if not harder, than the U.S. personnel in the airport took the time and made the effort to actually go out there and put that sign out there to thank us.

And I couldn’t say that the opposite was more true, that really the thanks goes out to the Japanese people. We appreciated seeing the thanks and – but really the thank you goes out to the people of Japan. They were the ones that made it happen. And for them to go to the effort to thank us, I think was pretty amazing in the midst of what they were dealing with there down on ground at Sendai.

MODERATOR: Sir, we actually have a copy of that photograph. I’ll make sure to send that out to the journalists.

COL TOTH: Sure. Okay. Yeah. Send that article that goes with it if you’d like as well.

MODERATOR: Yes, yes. We have that as well. Any – one more question in D.C.?

OPERATOR: (Inaudible.) One more.

MODERATOR: Okay. We have another here in New York.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir. Yes. I have a question.

MODERATOR: Please state your name and organization.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. This is Kawaguchi from Keizai Report group. And I have a question, sir. Who is in charge at Sendai Airport now who are (inaudible)? Is it United States or Japan?

COL TOTH: Currently, the Japanese authorities, the Sendai Airport Authority is in charge of the airport there at Sendai. On the 6th of April, the Japanese Self-Defense Force colonel, Colonel Kasamatsu, along with Colonel Lott, who is my forward commander, and the two Marine Corps cornels, all left Sendai Airport and transitioned all authorities back to the Sendai Airport Authority, who falls underneath the Civil Aviation Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation. So all control there at Sendai Airport is firmly in the hands of the Japanese people, and has been since roughly the 5th or 6th of April.

QUESTION: I got it. Thank you very much, sir.

COL TOTH: And sir, I will say that at no time was the U.S. military in charge of the airport. Throughout the entire operation, either the Japanese Self-Defense Force colonel there assigned to coordinate activities or the Civil Aviation Bureau personnel, Airport Authority were in charge of the airport. The only thing that the U.S. military was really in charge of was providing air traffic control services for a period of time, for U.S. military aircraft that were coming into the airfield, and also providing logistical support for cargo that was being offloaded for humanitarian operations there at the airport, and then providing relief and recovery operations alongside the Japanese.

But other than providing services for the Japanese at the airport until infrastructure and capability was restored, the Japanese were always in control of Sendai Airport, always gave all direction of what was being accomplished out there.

QUESTION: I appreciate that. Thank you very much, sir.

COL TOTH: Yes, sir.

MODERATOR: Any other final questions from either location?

Okay. Well, with that, sir, our sincerest thanks for your time this evening. And as we go back to work, we hope you have a good night’s rest.

COL TOTH: No worries. Thank you very much. And again, I thank all of you there for your interest in this story. And like I said, it was probably largely one of the most successful operations that we had, partnered with the Japanese, separate from some of the relief operations that were going on, cleaning up some of the towns in the area, along with providing assistance to a lot of the schools done by the Marines there. So I greatly appreciate all the journalists and everybody and their interest in this story. So thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Have a good night. Thank you, D.C.

COL TOTH: All right. Thank you. Okay. Bye-bye.


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