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Mr. Hironobu Sugawara, Kessennuma City Assemblyman from Oshima Island, presented lessons learned from the earthquake and tsunami that damaged his community to Okinawan leaders during a luncheon at the Ocean Breeze on Marine Corps Base Camp Foster, August 8. He also spoke of the considerable assistance provided by the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit during relief efforts. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the United States’ force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.

Photo by Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr.

Okinawa community leaders learn from Oshima Island experience

8 Aug 2011 | Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr.

Disaster preparation leaders from communities throughout Okinawa, met at the Ocean Breeze on Marine Corps Base Camp Foster to receive a presentation from a senior assemblyman of Oshima Island, August 8.

In March of this year, the communities on Oshima Island, in mainland Japan, were severely damaged by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were first on scene to assist in the area’s recovery.

The relationship developed during the efforts led to coordination between Marine Corps Bases Japan and the office of Kessennuma City Assemblyman Hironobu Sugawara to present the lessons learned from the disaster.

“Each community has a disaster preparedness office or official,” said Robert D. Eldridge, deputy assistant chief of staff, MCBJ. “We wanted them all to hear, first hand, the story of a community that was affected.”

During the luncheon, organized by Col. Jonathan T. Elliott, assistant chief of staff, MCBJ, Mr. Sugawara focused on providing help to his fellow leaders in avoiding the difficulties faced in his own community from a natural disaster.

Some of Mr. Sugawara’s main points included: a community can never be prepared enough, do not wait to get to higher ground, do not forsake higher ground to retrieve possessions, and prepare for far worse damage than your expectations. Residents of Oshima Island prepared for a six foot tsunami wave, but the actual wave was approximately 30 feet.

“[My fellow leaders] were very serious in their attention,” said Mr. Sugawara. “It seemed there is still room for improvement in the Okinawa response policy.”

Mr. Sugawara also spoke on relief efforts following the tsunami, praising the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit for their efforts in clearing debris and rebuilding community infrastructure during Operation Tomodachi.

Marine assets from the 31st MEU were able to provide needed relief where Japanese defense forces could not reach, according to Eldridge.

“When the Marine ships made their landing, there wasn’t a dry eye on the island,” said Mr. Sugawara. “Everyone cried because they were grateful for the Marines coming.”

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the United States’ force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.


31st Marine Expeditionary Unit