Yokota Airmen strengthen bilateral, joint disaster response exercises

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Jake Bailey
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
As the C-130 Hercules dove through the clouds toward its target 300 feet off the deck, the crew began its drop zone entry checklist. In the back of the aircraft, two loadmasters readied the cargo and eyed the amber light, awaiting its turn to green. Suddenly, the navigator's voice alerted over the interphone radio, "Green light! Green light!"

The loadmasters quickly cut away the bundle's safety line and rolled it off the edge of the ramp, parachutes unfurling and catching air. The load fell gently to its off-shore location, where four Japanese fishing boats circled, ready to retrieve the much anticipated aid.

Though this mission was part of a bilateral exercise, the effective tactical airlift delivery of a low-cost, low-altitude bundle containing actual disaster relief was very real.

Each year, Japan remembers the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake with a host of nationwide disaster response exercises.

"Throughout the weekend, the 374th Airlift Wing demonstrated how our training and readiness can support our friends and neighbors in the wake of a disaster," said Lt. Col. Andrew Campbell, the 36th Airlift Squadron commander.

Airmen from the 374th Airlift Wing participated in three disaster management exercises involving local Japanese governments, prefectures and local first responders, as well as an additional joint exercise with U.S. Marine Corps counterparts here Aug. 30 and 31.

"As the airlift hub of the Western Pacific, and because of our proximity to one of the most densely-populated cities in the world, Yokota provides a strategic location for combined and joint forces to operate and cooperate from during a crisis response," said Col. Douglas DeLaMater, the 374th Airlift Wing commander. "Our Airmen are trained and ready to assist whenever and wherever we're needed."

Yokota Airmen helped launch Tokyo Metropolitan Government's annual disaster prevention drill Aug. 30. Japanese emergency personnel from the local communities and aircrew members from the 459th Airlift Squadron loaded 40 boxes of simulated relief aid onto a UH-1 helicopter.

"Our team looks forward to opportunities to train with our Japanese partners," said Maj. Destry Hill, a UH-1 Iroquois pilot and 5th Air Force assistant director of operations. "We know from experience that in times of crises, it takes good communication to pull off a coordinated response. Exercises like this keep that relationship strong."

The UH-1 crews flew from Yokota AB and delivered the aid to Tokyo's Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park, which acts as a staging facility and management headquarters in the event of a disaster affecting the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.

"The exercise was very encouraging," said Norayuki Shiraishi, the TMG disaster prevention division deputy director. "We hope to deepen our cooperation with the United States military and continue to work closely together."

During the exercise, riggers from the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron Combat Mobility Flight and loadmasters from the 36th Airlift Squadron prepped low-cost, low-altitude, or LCLA, airdrop bundles containing disaster relief in the form of 600 pounds of water and rice and loaded them onto the back of a C-130. Also onboard the Shizouka-bound aircraft were eight members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, who, upon arrival at Shizouka Airport, boarded a JGSDF CH-47 Chinook helicopter for a follow-on movement to a simulated disaster zone.

Following the JGSDF's disembark; the supply-laden C-130 took off for the second phase of the exercise, an airdrop of humanitarian supplies to a coastal drop zone near Shimoda.

With drop clearance provided by personnel onboard a 459th Airlift Squadron UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, the C-130 Hercules deployed an LCLA bundle on target and on time.

"LCLA airdrops serve as a safe, accurate, reliable and affordable way to deliver humanitarian aid," Campbell said. "Today, we demonstrated how, through close partnership between Yokota professional airlifters and our Japanese hosts, this unique capability can be used in regional disaster response."

While the Hercules crew delivered its LCLA, another team of airlifters from Yokota AB participated in Kanagawa Prefecture Government's disaster management drill. A UH-1 Iroquois helicopter crew delivered four Airmen from the 374th Medical Group to assist U.S. and Japanese medical personnel responding to a simulated earthquake disaster zone.

"The KPG exercise provided our medical professionals an important opportunity to immerse themselves in realistic, time-sensitive training," said Col. Eveline Yao, the 374th Medical Group commander. "Airlifted to a remote location with several unknowns awaiting them, it's an opportunity to apply their medical expertise and knowledge alongside Japanese counterparts in a high-pressure situation. It is a symbol of our mutual support, cooperation and trust."

To cap the weekend's exercise activity, Yokota AB Airmen and Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma took part in a joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission. Airmen from the 374th Medical Group assisted with the loading of medical supplies onto an MV-22 Osprey, which displayed its range and speed by traveling round trip from Yokota to Oshima Island in approximately one hour.

DeLaMater said the joint and bilateral exercises were focused on one main purpose -- staying prepared and ready to help people when they need it.

"Our Airmen and Marine partners are committed to providing support to our Japanese brethren as part of a whole of government response in the event of a major disaster," DeLaMater said. "This was a total team effort -- from the planning phase to the execution.”