By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Greg Johnson, USS Ronald Reagan Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan – Sailors held a 30-second moment of silence Friday on board USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in honor of the fifth anniversary of the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
Capt. Brett Crozier, Ronald Reagan’s executive officer, spoke to the crew about the March 11, 2011 natural disaster.
“Today is an indelible reminder of why Sailors, contractors and all those who support this ship continuously train, operate and maintain the ship’s systems and equipment, as we pause to remember those affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami,” said Crozier. “Five years later, the Reagan team is now forward deployed to Japan and working alongside our Japanese allies, promoting peace and stability in the region. Let us be proud of our ship’s history in providing assistance to our neighbors as we remember the events of March 11, 2011.”
Operation Tomodachi began March 12, 2011, one day after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 40-meter tsunami struck the coastline of Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. The effort included 189 aircraft and 24 Navy ships. Ronald Reagan supported the operation as a refueling platform for U.S. and Japanese aircraft. Throughout the operation, the Navy delivered 260 tons of relief supplies.
Fire Controlman 1st Class Frank Ware, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, aboard USS George Washington (CVN 73) in 2011. He said the experience was something he will never forget.
“We were actually at an all-hands call and the crew didn’t know what was going on,” said Ware. “The way the ship was shaking, you would have thought we were getting underway. At the time, we realized it was an earthquake, but we didn’t know until 30 minutes later that a tsunami had hit. It was all surreal. Watching the videos and seeing the devastation makes me feel lucky to have survived such a catastrophic event.”
Culinary Specialist 1st Class Minardo Nicolas, from Union City, California, participated in the operation and said the experience was frightening, but the seriousness of the situation served as his motivation.
“It was a very tense situation at the time because of the changing situation and the uncertainty with the power plant,” said Nicolas. “It was a really emotional experience because of the fact that Japan was our home, so on a certain level, I think we all felt some of the shock and despair that the Japanese people did. It’s something that I think we all wanted to be a part of and to see the reactions from the people and the appreciation they expressed is something that I will always remember.”
Three helicopter squadrons coordinated with Ronald Reagan during the effort, including Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 14 (HSC-14), Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 51 (HSL-51), and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 4 (HSC-4). Ensign Kenny Sevenello was an enlisted air crewman with HSC-14 during Operation Tomodachi and helped deliver what he estimated to be 62,000 pounds of relief supplies as an air crewman with HSC-14. He said Operation Tomodachi was one of the most memorable operations of his career, but one memory stands out above all others.
“In Japanese culture, as I understand it, a sign of respect is a bow, and the deeper the bow, the more respect it shows,” said Sevenello. “There was an old guy who came out when we landed to drop supplies. He had tears and a smile and was just happy that someone was coming to help them out. We dropped the supplies off and as we were getting ready to take off, he starts the bow. His head pretty much went all the way to his knees. He held it when we took off, in the rotor wash and everything, holding it until we were pretty much out of sight.”
According to the Japanese National Police Agency, the earthquake and tsunami resulted in 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injuries and 2,562 people missing, as well as 228,863 people either temporarily or permanently displaced from their homes. Operation Tomodachi took place from March 12, 2011 to May 4, 2011.