Capt. Tamara Graham, director of force requirements, Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), spoke to an audience of U.S. and Japanese military and civic leaders at the “Thank You from Fukushima” reception hosted by the Honorable Kenko Sone, Consul General of Japan at his official residence in Los Angeles, Jan. 17.
The event served to express Japan’s gratitude for the support received from around the world following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that resulted in nearly 16,000 deaths. The reception also included remarks given by Sone, the Honorable Masao Uchibori, Governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, and retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thom Burke, a former commanding officer of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
“We received tremendous support from southern California, including assistance from southern California rescue teams from Operation Tomodachi led by the U.S. Forces stationed in Japan, and donations from thousands of Californians,” said Sone.
At the time of the tsunami, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, consisting of Ronald Reagan, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble (DDG 88) and Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), was on a routine deployment in the Western Pacific Ocean. The strike group arrived on the Japanese coast the next day.
“We knew we were going there as soon as we started seeing what was happening,” said Burke. “I turned the ship. We went there, and we were proud to do it.”
Officials from Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, extended their appreciation and commemorated the partnership between the U.S. and Japan during Operation Tomodachi.
“We the people of Fukushima Prefecture have been able to move positively towards revitalization, no matter how hard it has been for us,” said Uchibori. “Remembering the gratitude to all of you, we have, and will continue to, further advance and strive for revitalization one step at a time.”
Graham, executive officer of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 4 embarked on Ronald Reagan during Operation Tomodachi, reflected on her personal experience during the operation and the opportunity to honor the partnership between the U.S. and Japan – a partnership that has continued to strengthen for more than 70 years.
“Our combined Reagan Strike Group operations with the Japanese Self Defense Forces in support of the people of Japan will forever be a highlight of my 30 years of Naval service,” said Graham. “The teamwork and selfless actions of our Sailors in the face of both natural and nuclear disasters, with so much uncertainty, epitomized what it means to serve and make a difference in the world. Those efforts were mirrored by our Japanese partners and the very people we were there to support. Operation Tomodachi was an incredible example of the resilience of the human spirit and the true meaning of partnership, and it was an honor to represent the contributions of the men and women of the U.S. Navy to the people of Fukushima and the greater global community.”
Operation Tomodachi was a U.S. Armed Forces humanitarian assistance operation involving 24 ships, 140 aircraft and more than 15,000 Sailors and Marines, supporting Japan in disaster relief efforts following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.