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NEWS | March 3, 2016

Operation Tomodachi: Five Years Later

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charlotte Oliver

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- At 2:46 p.m. March 11, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the city of Tohoku in the Iwate prefecture of Japan, triggering tsunami waves reaching heights up to 133 feet.

In the days following the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) brought relief supplies to those affected with support from the U.S.

"Sailors on U.S. Navy ships provided not only food, but also toys to children in shelters." said Minister Hiroyasi Izumi, deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Japan. "I remember picture of one boy, firmly hugging a koala bear. My guess is this koala bear was probably a gift that a Sailor had originally gotten for someone back home. Yet here was this little boy [who] had suffered unimaginable destruction and losses at such a young age. Hugging that little koala, I think he will never forget that bear. The people of Japan will never forget what all of the services represented here did."

Many service members and civilians who gathered for the ceremony had taken part in Operation Tomodachi.

"I believe such generosity of spirit cemented something lasting and deeply powerful in our relationship. It will not be forgotten," Izumi said. "Ladies and gentleman on this fifth anniversary of Operation Tomodachi on behalf of the people of Japan I thank you for all you did, for all you continue to do, and I express to you my great gratitude for your friendship."

Following Izumi's comments, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band and members from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force Central Band conducted a joint musical performance of a Japanese song "Hana wa Saku," meaning flowers will bloom, written in support of the recovery efforts.

Within hours of the earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck Japan that day, much of the U.S. 7th Fleet was on the move, repositioning ships and aircraft to assist the JSDF in its relief efforts. Overall, twenty four ships, 140 aircraft and more than 15,000 Sailors and Marines delivered over 280 tons of relief supplies.

"This afternoon is an opportunity to reflect, to remember, to never forget the tragedy and loss of the Great East Japan Earthquake," said Rear Adm. Robert Girrier who was the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group commander during the disaster response. "Tomodachi, friend and also trusted partner, ally, teammate, these words mean something. They describe a relationship well established but also deepened through adversity and through shared experience through learning quickly and growing together stronger."

In the aftermath, this disaster claimed the lives of nearly 16,000 people, injured more than 6,000 and left almost 2,600 people missing. The World Bank estimated the economic cost could reach up to $235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history.

For nearly 70 years, the U.S.-Japan alliance has been the foundation of peace and security in Northeast Asia and the cornerstone of U.S. engagement in the region.