Misawa Airmen Coordinate Volunteer Efforts In Local Community
(March 23, 2011)
|MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (3/20/2011 - AFNS) -- It wasn't long after the ground stopped shaking in Japan that people began asking, "What can I do to help?"|
Airmen and Sailors work together to help clean up the Misawa City fishing port, Japan, Mar. 19, 2011. More than 3,000 man hours have been put in since Mar. 14, 2011 by Misawa Air Base residents to help our local communities with recovery efforts. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marie Brown
|Hundreds of volunteers, military members, families and civilians, came forward at Misawa Air Base in the days following the March 11, 9.0-magnitude earthquake. It soon became clear that a coordinated effort was needed to organize all those who wanted to help. |
Maj. Wesley Hales, from the 14th Fighter Squadron, was designated the base volunteer coordinator. He joined with the Misawa American Red Cross Station and quickly got to work collecting names of volunteers and sorting out the various volunteer opportunities available.
"There are really two main efforts here," Major Hales said. "There are volunteer trips to go to Hachinohe and Misawa port for the cleanup effort. And there is the donation side - collecting clothes and food and sending those supplies to Sendai and other places that need help."
An all-call was issued for donations such as blankets, clothes, food, and toiletry items. Base
|residents were eager to help and soon the high school gym was full of donations. Gathering the donations was easy enough, but now volunteer coordinators faced the challenge of getting the donations to those in need.|
|"A lot of things had to come together to make this," Major Hales said. |
With fuel shortages and blocked roads, coordinators were not sure how to get the donations out to the affected areas. As luck would have it, a busload of American teachers from Sendai showed up at the base seeking refuge. The bus they travelled on was returning to Sendai. Volunteers loaded up the bus with donations, and Sendai school officials ended up renting a truck to help with deliveries. The vehicles have been making shuttle runs back and forth between the base and Sendai, delivering seven truckloads of donations to those in need.
"The school in Sendai has become a hub for donations and people there know that's where they need to go for supplies," Major Hales said.
People still wanted to help locally. Ports in Misawa and Hachinohe were destroyed from the tsunami, but the cities were not asking base officials for help. The Misawa Security Operations Center, a Misawa Air Base tenant unit, was able to break the ice with the local cities and began assisting with clean-up efforts at a Hachinohe fishery. Their initial efforts opened the gate to an army of volunteers on base.
On March 15, 80 volunteers packed on two buses headed to Hachinohe. With the help of interpreters the volunteers began assisting locals wherever they could. It wasn't long before they were working their way down the beach, cleaning up with the locals.
"Now the supply cannot keep up with the demand. There is so much to do," Major Hales said. "If I could send 500 people out at a time, I could easily keep them employed."
Since the first trip, more than 600 volunteers have assisted with clean-up efforts in Misawa and Hachinohe. Additional trips are being planned on a day-by-day basis, with the largest trip so far taking place March 20 when 120 people headed to the Misawa Port.
Roger Haack has been living in Misawa for about 18 months with his wife, a Department of Defense Dependent Schools teacher on base. While collecting salvageable bricks at the Misawa Port on March 19, he said he was there to help his community.
"I volunteer because I want to help our neighbors, help our host country," he said. "We love it here. The support from the military and the community is great."
Mr. Haack and his wife have volunteered for four clean-up trips to the Misawa Port and Hachinohe so far.
"My biggest surprise and disappointment is seeing the damage down at Misawa Port," he said. "All the news is talking about Hachinohe. It appeared that most the damage was there. We use the Misawa Port area a lot; we walk on the beach here. It's disappointing to see the damage."
Volunteering alongside those relatively new to the community, like Mr. Haack, were long-time Japan residents. Master Sgt. Donna Major, assigned to the 373rd Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Group, has been in Misawa for six years. She went on her first volunteer trip eight-days after the earthquake.
"I've been trying to get out here all week," she said. "I saw the devastation in Sendai on the news - how could you not help. Whatever it is, picking up bricks, trash, you have to be out here helping.
With all the devastation and work to be done, Sergeant Major said she believes the Japanese community will come through it all.
"The Japanese are strong people," she said. "They rally together and will get through this, just like the military. We pick each other up and say, 'come on, you can do this.'"
There have been a number of smaller volunteer cases popping up around base over the last week. People have offered childcare, playgroups, cheerleading clinics, and Kinder Jam sessions to provide an activity for children and relief for parents since schools have been closed all week. There have also been numerous instances of people offering up their homes to those Japanese and American citizens who need a place to stay.
"There are some really great people out there," said Kate Vella, the Misawa American Red Cross station chairperson. "We have people with huge hearts and volunteers are making all this possible."
With so much happening, and information constantly changing, Major Hales turned to the experts at the American Red Cross for assistance with the administrative aspects of volunteer coordination. Red Cross volunteers like Ms. Vella are maintaining a database of volunteers and what they can offer. Additionally, they are updating the Misawa American Red Cross Facebook page on a near-continuous basis with information on up-coming volunteer opportunities and how people can make monetary donations.
"The Red Cross is a lynchpin in this operation," Major Hales said. "If I didn't have them, we couldn't make this all happen."
As Operation Tomodachi and the Department of Defense voluntary departure continue, Major Hales stressed that volunteer efforts will continue but will have to be balanced with operational requirements.
"The challenge is to balance our energy with making sure we don't over extend ourselves and that we are smart about it," the major said. "We'll temper volunteer efforts with allocating the appropriate amount of resources needed for the movement of folks out of Japan, but Operation Tomodachi is alive and well."
|By USAF SSgt. Rachel Martinez|
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Reprinted from Air Force News Service
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