ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan --
One year after rendering assistance to Japanese tsunami victims during Operation Tomadachi from a base of operations in Atsugi, the Dragons of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced) returned for an encore.
Three CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters and 16 Marines, part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Air Combat Element, conducted a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief demonstration along with a static display for the Atsugi Air Show, April 28.
“We demonstrated a section of CH-46E helicopters delivering supplies to a landing zone and evacuating a casualty to safety,” said Capt. Joseph “Raw” McConnell, a CH-46E pilot and native of Scarborough, Maine.
The Marines were invited by the base commander, Navy Captain Steven Weiman, to participate in the air facility’s first air show in 12 years. The show gathered more than 31,000 Japanese citizens and base family members for a display that featured more than two dozen aircraft from Marine Corps, Navy and Japanese forces.
The Marines received a warm welcome and widespread recognition from the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces and citizens of Atsugi, who remembered their actions in March of 2011.
“We were really impressed by (the Marines), because everyone had left for evacuation except Japanese,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ryuji Mori, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. “Only the Marine CH-46 came here to our rescue, just like Superman!”
The Dragons arrived in Atsugi on March 13, 2011, with eight helicopters and more than 100 Marines and Sailors to assist in the relief of Japanese citizens devastated by the effects of the tsunami.
The squadron conducted humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations for more than four weeks, delivering much needed supplies to the survivors of the event.
Even though a year has passed, the memories of that operation are ever present in the minds of those Marines who were there.
“It feels great to come back and meet face to face with the JMSDF pilots that we worked with and the people who were directly impacted by our efforts last year,” said McConnell.
The level of excitement for their return surprised the Marines, who faced an endless crowd of admirers during the six hour show. Long lines to board and view the inside of the aircraft were matched by the lines to meet the Marines themselves.
“It was an honor to come back here and have all these people recognize us,” said Sgt. Paul Rathbun, a crew chief for HMM 265 (REIN) and native of Shinglehouse, Penn. “We were taking pictures with them and signing autographs all day.”
The 31st MEU serves as the United States’ force in readiness for the Asia Pacific region, and the Marine Corps’ only continually forward deployed expeditionary unit.