Thursday, July 14, 2011

Long hiatus....

I received my milBloggie today and it is making me want to start blogging again.  I had stopped for a number of reasons, but I want to know if anyone has an opinion.  I haven't even logged in for over a month, and I see I still got 1,800 views last month without any new content!  Any comments?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hawaii Pt. 2!

I am a little sunburned today!  I had some time off yesterday so I went over to the east side of Oahu to Waimanalo Bay to hang out on the beach.  I bought some random sc-fi novel for $0.99 on my Kindle and decided to actually try to relax.  I am notoriously bad at relaxing so I thought a little fiction might help since I have not read a fiction book in something like 2 years!




The beach was awesome and after growing up going to the beach in Delaware where its packed with people the solitude was incredible!  There were some people out there, but not enough to encroach on my in anyway.  I could sit there and read without hearing anything but the wind and surf; no loud-ass people from jersey feeding the seagulls either!

Last week I also went snorkeling for the first time.  Me and one of the guys I am here with rented snorkels, masks, and fins here on Hickam ($6 a day, not bad) and drove up to the north shore.  We went snorkeling in a place called Sharks Cove, but we did not see any sharks!  The water was incredibly clear and although the coral wasn't that amazing, the fish were!  The highlight of the trip was getting to see two sea turtles up close and personal!  I got to see baby sea turtles in Malaysia, but missed out on seeing the full grown ones.  One of the turtles was probably a full meter across and the other was much younger and was maybe 1/3 that size.  These pics are of the younger one who was much more playful and photogenic!
Thanks Millward for jacking up the photo!
Fish!

Shark's Cove

We climbed up and jumped off of this a few times...

Shark's Cove

More Fish!

Turtle!



Another attraction I hit up on some time off was Diamond Head Crater.  Most sites will list it as a moderate hike, and although I will concede it is steep, I must saw the most difficult part is navigating around the sweaty, panting, overweight people on the path!  The view from the top was totally worth it though, and the pictures speak for themselves!

Diamond Head Crater.



Honolulu and Waikiki.

I look really bald in this photo... stupid genetics...


I am actually heading home in a few hours so my next post will be from Japan!  I have a lot of stuff going on at home and I will be pretty busy in the next few weeks.  I will be moving houses and starting a new grad school class! Matane!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hawaii!

First, let me apologize for not posting for two weeks but for some crazy reason the government wants me to actually work to earn my paycheck!  I've been in Hawaii since the 8th and have been trying to see as much as possible while I've been here, which was a lot easier when I wasn't working 12-hour graveyard shifts!  Another reason I was unable to post was that my laptop broke my first day here!  I just recently purchased a new 17" Macbook Pro and three weeks in the screen went out on it (it may or may not have fallen off of my nightstand).  Luckily I was here in Honolulu where there are three Apple stores and not in Misawa where there are NONE!  The people at the Apple store were awesome though and I was able to get a new screen installed under warranty and it only took about five days to order the part and have it repaired.

So, Hawaii!  Although I have travelled a lot this is pretty much my first "tropical island" trip and I was a little dissapointed the first few days because the weather sucked!  It was overcast and raining everyday and a lot of my pictures definitely look a little gloomy!

We are staying on Hickam AFB which is next to Pearl Harbor and was also attacked on 7 December 1941.  When we arrived and in-processed we were able to go into the PACAF HQ bulding and see the original bullet holes and the memorial inside.  At the time the building was used as a barracks for over 3,000 soldiers and it was heavily strafed during the attacks.  The first day we had some free time several of us headed next door to see the Pearl Harbor museum and check out the USS Airzona memorial.

Entrance to the USS Arizona Memorial.

The museum is cool because it gives a great chronology of the events leading up to the attack on both the US and Japanese sides.  The attack itself was a surprise, but the idea that Japan was going to attack was not.  The museum goes through the entirety of the events of the attack and the aftermath.  The Hawaiin islands were placed uner martial law and some of the events there were just crazy to learn about!  Kids had to carry gasmasks on their way to and from school, the beautiful beaches were lined with barbed wire and obstacles, and everyone lived in constant fear of an attack!

Kids wearing gasmasks!



The USS Missouri where the Japanese formally surrendered.



One of the parts of the Arizona that is usually visible.


After checking out the museum you get to go into a theater and watch a short documentary film about the events leading to the attack and the attack itself.  For a government produced film it is actually pretty good!  After that we headed out to the Arizona memorial where the ship is still sitting in the harbor.  The first thing that struck me was the smell of diesel.  The Arizona continues to leak diesel fuel and will do so for decades to come.  The videos and pictures of the attack show the Arizona burning with huge, billowing black clouds of smoke coming from the ship.  Smelling that diesel immediately made me think of the vehicles I'd smelled burning in Iraq and how intense the smell in the harbor must have been on that day.
Diesel leaking from the ship.

The memorial at the Airzona was a moving sight also; seeing that wall with over a 1,000 names on it is pretty humbling.  One of the coolest things at the memorial was the list of surviving sailors who were interred with the ship after they passed away later in life.  One of the more suprising things about Pearl Harbor is how many Japanese tourists go there.  I would really like to hear from some of them what they think about it all...





I spent a lot of my time off downtown in Waikiki too.  The biggest surprise I had down there was how Hawaii is full of homeless people and extremely aggressive prostitutes.  The hookers will literally walk around the police and look for customers.  The cops said they can't do anything unless they see money changing hands so they pretty much leave them alone.  I think that shit is crazy!

We had a little more time off the one day and I drug three coworkers with me to go see Moana Falls, a 150 foot waterfall back a 1 mile jungle trail.  It was a pretty easy hike but it started raining heavily about halfway in and we ended up getting completely drenched.  We stopped just long enough for a photo before heading back to the truck!

Moana Falls - definitely couldn't fit all 150 ft in the photo!


I'll be sure to post again soon now that I have some time.  I have some great photos from climbing Diamond Head Crater and snorkeling in Shark's Cove.  I have a little more time off next week and then next weekend I'll be heading home.  All in all I can't really complain about this trip to Hawaii!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Osama Bin Laden, Milbloggies, and 8 fast years!

Well friends, family, and readers from around the world who stumbled upon my blog, it has been one interesting week!  Before I jump into the main thing I want to take about, my 8 year AF anniversary, I'd like to take a minute to comment on the death of Osama Bin Laden!  I, like most of the military community, was absolutely elated when I heard the news.  I have been completely hooked on all the details that are coming out about the operation and while I know we may never get all the details, the stuff we are hearing about is pretty awesome.  Even though I know it will not drastically change anything it is still a huge psychological win for the United States!


Next up, Milbloggies.  Sometime around the earthquake on 11 March my friend Jenn, who is a producer for an ABC affiliate in Phoenix, AZ, did a spot about my experience and linked my blog.   After that my little blog for friends and family took off and started getting read all over the world.  I was also linked on a number of blog aggregate sites, the army.mil mainpage, and a lot of other sites.  One of those was the military blogging community, Milblogs, which is affiliated with Military.com.  Apparently they have an annual conference and they select some blogs from different categories for awards.  I didn't even know it, but I was nominated for Best U.S. Air Force blog!  I received an e-mail yesterday letting me know I had won the category.  Pretty cool for something that started as a way for me to show my family what I have been up to in Japan!  Thanks to whoever nominated me and anyone that voted.  I'm really glad people are enjoying the blog and I am sorry I have not been writing as much as I was!  You can check out the other winners by clicking the dogtag below.


Ok.... now that I've got all of the out of the way I want to talk about how this Friday I will hit my 8 year anniversary in the United States Air Force and what that means to me.  It's been a wild ride so far, and it's sort of hard to believe 8 years has gone by already.  My hairline can certainly attest to the time, but I'm not sure if my brain has caught up to the idea yet!

Eight years ago I was living in Philadelphia and I was not exactly heading in the direction I wanted for my life.  A friend of mine told me he was going to join the Air Force and after he told me about the college benefits and some of the programs they had, I decided to at least go talk to a recruiter.  The recruiter was fairly typical and told me whatever I wanted to hear, but the thing he told me that would stick in my mind was "you're joining the Air Force, you'll never see the front lines."  This was March of 2003 and the same week I processed at the MEPS in Harrisburg the US invaded Iraq.

I came into the Air Force without a guaranteed job and was given "Vehicle Operator" as my career field in Basic Training.  I was devastated.  I had come into the Air Force to do something highly technical, and driving was not what I had planned on doing.  Tech school at Ft. Leonard Wood was a breeze and two months after basic I was back at Lackland AFB, but this time as permanent party.  Immediately after in-processing I started hearing about a new type of deployment for Air Force Vehicle Operators.  The Army was short on drivers and needed help running convoys, the Air Force agreed to support the mission, and 9 months into my time in the Air Force A1C Scotty D on a plane heading to Kuwait to stage before heading into Iraq.  This was the beginning of 2004 when the IED threat was heating up, the insurgency was building, and we had no armor on our vehicles.

In Mosul, Iraq.

In Irbil, Iraq.


It is so tempting to turn this into a damn memoir and write more and more, but I will try to keep the details brief.  That first deployment cemented my love of the Air Force, and showed me that there are a lot of good opportunities in my career field.  I saw both good and bad out there on that deployment, and on my next.  I ended up logging over 35,000 miles on the streets of Iraq from 04-06, was shot at, blown up, and lost five good people.  Army Sgt Ladd and Lt. Stovall, and Air Force Sgts Peters, Norton, and McElroy.  I'll remember those names for the rest of my life.

The deployments were just one facet of the job, and at the risk of rambling I will just include some highlights!  There just always seems to be something going on and I am lucky to be a part of it.  I've been coined by two different Secretary of the Air Force and dozens of Generals.  I've helped with relief efforts with two major natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquake here in Japan.  I had the opportunity to spend two years teaching combat skills to over 1,600 different Airmen across the Air Force who were deploying into dangerous countries.  I graduated college with a Bachelors in Computer Science at almost no cost to me.  The Air Force has been nothing but opportunities for me.

When I look back at the last eight years it seems like it went by so fast but at the same time it's like I've lived two lifetimes worth of events already.  This July I will put on Technical Sergeant, E-6, and just over 8 years.  That's pretty fast for the Air Force and while it may preclude me from getting to do as much hands-on work, it opens up a lot more opportunities to lead.  I'm excited about where the next 12+ years will take me, and the great thing is that I honestly have no idea where my final destination is.  I just know I want ride this gig out as long as I'm still having fun, and if the next 12 years are as good as the first 8 I may stick around longer!

So this blog sort of ended up a little random, and I tried not to ramble too much.  Next week I will maybe post some photos of cherry blossoms from the last week since I went to the Cherry Blossom festival in Hirosaki and then went out to a local park with some Japanese friends for a Ohanami style BBQ.  This weekend I will also be heading out to Hawaii for work for three weeks.  I've never been there and I am really hoping I get some time off to see some things! 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Busy Busy Busy!

I am so sorry I have not been posting lately but I have been extremely busy!  We have been very short-manned at my unit and I have been double, and sometimes triple, hatted at work the last two weeks.  Things are just starting to normalize a little and then I got officially notified yesterday that I will be going TDY to Hawaii for three weeks in May!

My unit has continued to support the Misawa Helps project which has contributed more than 20,000 man-hours to local clean-up projects, and I am proud to say I've had a big piece in that success by making sure they get there and back.  Starting next week they'll be going on overnight missions to the village of Tanohata which is about 3 1/2 hours away from Misawa!

I have had some time to myself over the last 2 weeks and have had some awesome opportunities to hang out with some locals.  I was at a BBQ two weeks ago that was about half American and half Japanese and there were two grills going, one American style, one Japanese.  This weekend I am going to the Hirosaki to see the Cherry Blossoms.  There is an old area in the center of town with an old castle that has about 1000 cherry trees so it should be pretty cool to see.

There was so much going on the last 2 weeks and this blog won't do it justice.  Next week I plan on getting a little personal because I will be hitting my 8 year mark in the military.  So if you don't want to read about my reflections on the past and projections for the future go ahead and skip that one!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Big Quake

So we had another big quake Thursday night about 2330.  I had just went to bed when my phone went off with an emergency earthquake report, which it pretty much only does when they're a 6.0 or over.  The phone vibrates and flashes and makes a siren sound.  You get a text message in Kanji telling you where the earthquake has happened that the translator app I have translates to something like "Earthquake in Miyagi prefecture.  Please prepare a strong tremor."  This earthquake was pretty strong with the USGS saying it was a 7.1 and Japan saying it was a 7.4.  I figured it was going to be in the 7's right away because after the 900+ (60+ over 6.0) earthquakes we've had since 9 March I've gotten pretty good at guessing their strength!




For those of you who don't know, the Richter scale is no longer in common usage to determine the power of quakes.  Scientists use something called the "moment magnitude scale" and it is extremely similar to the Richter scale for layman purposes.  Both scales operate in a base 10 logarithmic scale (everyone who knows me knows I am a nerd so if you're not into science content skip ahead!).  This means that the power of quakes increase exponentially and not linearly.  In normal language it means that when you jump 2 levels on the scale the quake is not twice as powerful, it is 1,000 times more powerful.  So basically it would take 1,000 5.0 magnitude quakes to equal the energy released in one 7.0 magnitude quake.  This is why after feeling a 9.0 a 7.1-4 seems like nothing and after I saw that there was only going to be a .5-1 meter tsunami (the tsunami on 11 march was 10 meters up here and over 30 in Sendai!) I went back to sleep!

The quake on Thursday knocked out power about a full day but by Friday evening everything was back to normal.  One of the guys from work married a local girl whose parents own a Japanese pub, or izakaya, and he had a BBQ Friday at the restaurant.  I would loved to have gotten some photos from going out on Friday, but sadly my phone died early in the night from not getting charged the night before!

I didn't get to go on the clean-up to Noda like I had planned last week.  My work schedule changed and I am going to be taking over a new section so I have been trying to learn that job.  I was also sick for a few days after cleaning up the farm in Hachinohe last weekend.  It's starting to get warm here now and the weather this last week has been awesome.  The bad part of that is that the cedar trees are releasing noxious clouds of pollen which are tearing me up.  Luckily today I was able to chew up enough Zyrtec to get through a nice 4 mile run through Misawa City!

We're still getting to support relief efforts around Japan by receiving supplies and distributing them.  I was able to get out of the office for a little last week to drive the AT forklift and help deliver some water to some guys who were distributing it down in Miyagi prefecture (where Sendai is).  The point of contact for this effort was Simon Bernard, an American ex-pat who lives in the area and runs an organization called "Outside the Gate."




Simon has a page for Outside the Gate on Facebook and if you want to find out more about what is going on in Misawa you can add the Misawa American Red Cross, AFN Misawa, or Misawa Emergency Management pages.  They usually have up-to-date info as soon as something happens around here.  It's great the DoD has embraced social media sites because when you're at home it is usually the fastest way to find out what is going on.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hachinohe Farm Clean-up

Yesterday I went out on another clean-up mission at a farm outside of Hachinohe.  We took route 338 on the way down and there were parts where you could see how the water had come up over the road and just deposited trash everywhere as it tore things apart.  The mission yesterday was a short one and only went from 1200-1700 and we definitely had our work cut out for us when we got out there and saw the field we would be cleaning up.

I wanted to get a shot of a regular field for a frame of reference but just know that the fields here are usually straight mounded lines of black soil, and not completely covered in garbage and pine needles.


We had about 80 volunteers out there for the clean-up effort and only about 3 hours to get it done (the farm is more than 30 minutes from Misawa).


There is still a lot of work to be done out here, but we definitely cleared off all of the big stuff, and about 30+ huge trash bags of small stuff off of the field.  We found all sorts of random debris in the mix of tree limbs and lumber such as some microwaves, unopened cans of beer, furniture, lots of tires, and dozens of other random items.

By the end of the day we had done a pretty good job of cleaning that field up.

In the background here you can see the piles of debris we stacked up and one of the destroyed outbuildings on the farm.  

I'm working next weekend so my days off this week will be Wednesday and Thursday.  I am signed up to go on a long clean-up mission on Wednesday in the town of Noda.  I'll try to get some pics and info up about that one next weekend.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Normal shifts!

Well I don't really have any news to report right now except for us going back to normal shifts.  I got the call yesterday that we would be stopping 24 hour operations and that I can stop living the vampire life!  It's funny how when I was younger I used to stay up all night, and now I much prefer the dayshift.  Probably because I miss the sun!

Since I was not working last night TSgt Meyers, the guy I road down to Ofunato with, invited me to go with his family down to Hachinohe to eat at a Japanese curry place that everyone loves called Coco's.  It was definitely something worth going back to and was so far the spiciest thing I've had in Japan.  You can order the curry from level 1-10 and I had a level 5 which was a pretty good mix of flavor and heat. Next time I will go for a 6 or 7 though!

I am off this weekend so tonight I am probably going to go out and celebrate a little (it is payday after-all), and then on Sunday I volunteered to do a short five-hour local clean-up.  Next Wednesday I volunteered to a long clean-up a few hours south in the village of Noda.  It's a village of about 4,000 people and over 1/3 of the buildings in town were destroyed.  The base will be sending crews down about three times a week to help clean up and deliver supplies.

Until I do those clean-ups I may not have too much else to write about.  In the meantime here is an awesome sign that was in the bathroom at Cocos over the child changing table.  I like the graphic of the kid falling!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting Close to Normal

So things are really starting to normalize here on Misawa AB.  With nothing too exciting going on I will most likely be returning to my weekly posts, or just whenever something interesting happens.

You may have seen the voluntary departures we have been doing due to the State Department/DoD order for voluntary evacuation.  They authorized dependents to leave Northeast Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami.  It's not really my place to approve or disapprove of the operation, but it's just not that bad here! nevertheless we just finished sending about 1,500 dependents back to the US.  I know for my flight most of the families who left had their spouse deployed, but some people are probably just taking a free flight back to the states.

We're still supporting clean-up efforts all over our region and control of the clean-up operations is actually transitioning from the Red Cross to the base.  I might try to get out there again next week if I can but we're still doing 12 hour shifts.

Most of the facilities on base are back to normal now that they've opened up the toll roads.  The gasoline restrictions have been lifted and we can fuel up as needed, all of the restaurants on base are open, and they have even opened the gym back up!  We still need to conserve resources, electricity especially, but almost everything is back to normal.

I've gotten a lot of questions about the nuclear reactor down in Fukushima.  Misawa is 236 miles north of the reactor and the seasonal winds this time of year blow in a southeasterly direction.  We're being told that we are not in any danger of radiation where we are located.

We are still getting a lot of aftershocks and had two fairly strong ones today.  Sometimes its hard to tell with some of the smaller ones so one of the guys made a homemade seismograph to see if we're having an aftershock.


The pen doesn't really write during an earthquake since it's a shitty government pen, but it will sway back and forth so you can at least be sure that we're having one and you're not going crazy!  We all joke about how we're completely complacent with earthquakes now since we have quakes in the 5's and 6's daily.

It has been snowing a lot recently too.  Here was the road away from my work on my way home the other morning.  Luckily it warms up above freezing most days and the snow doesn't last long.


Other than these few things I have written about things have been pretty boring.  I'm hoping to get back to some sort of normal schedule soon, but as of right now we don't know when that will happen.


I'm just dropping this in so I can claim my blog on milblogging.com (thanks for the heads-up Leighton).
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oriase Town Pig Farm Clean-up

When I got over to the Red Cross meeting area at the Mokuteki Community Center this morning I asked if they knew where we were going.  I was told that the local community leaders coordinate with the military about locations that need assistance and that we would fin out where we were going our initial brief.  I knew that some of the previous groups had cleaned up the Misawa Fishing Port, and some restaurants in Hachinohe.  When the Captain announced that we would be going to clean up a pig farm my heart sank a little.  I knew it would be muddy, dirty work but I was definitely not expecting a commercial pig farm!

The pig farm we were sent to is right off of Route 338 in Oriase Town, just south of the Misawa Fishing Port.  The pig farm is about 4-500 meters from the actual coast line, and almost the entire thing was destroyed.  The farmer had about 2,000 pigs before the tsunami, and somehow one of his buildings survived along with around 400 pigs.  Every other building was completely ripped off of its foundation and destroyed.  One of them was even moved about 300 meters across a field.  We were told that all the pig carcasses had been removed, but we soon found out that wasn't completely accurate.




As you can see from the above photos, the site was a total mess.  Our job was to separate the debris into piles of wood, metal, and plastic.  The Japanese burn almost everything they cannot recycle but the base had asked them to not burn anything while we were there for health reasons.  The piles of wreckage were a tangled mess of concrete, rebar, wiring, insulation, wood, metal roofing, plastic siding, metal gates, and all sorts of infrastructure required of a commercial pig farm.  The debris was packed down with dirt and pine needles because when the tsunami came through the tree line it swept the forest floor clean and deposited everything on the farm.  The job required a lot of heavy lifting and team work to get everything done.  Luckily someone had gotten two chain saws from the Civil Engineering Squadron and I was able to use one throughout the day to hack some of the building frames down into manageable pieces.


There were no bathrooms at the site so I took a walk out into the trees and snapped this pic.  You can see how the tsunami pushed all the trees over and cleared out most of the normal debris that would be on the ground.



This photo looks over the wreckage at the lone building left standing.  Somehow the water diverted around this building and it was spared.  Hopefully the farmer will be able to rebuild and use those remaining pigs to repopulate his farm.




After about two hours we found our first casualty of the day.  You could tell something was up because the ground felt a little more spongy than it should.  This sow clocked in at about 200 kilos and had to be drug out with ropes.  That picture is below and maybe not for some people.  Luckily it has been very cold so the pigs had not decomposed very much at all.  We ended up finding about a dozen pigs throughout the day including a few piglets.



Hopefully I didn't scare everyone off with the photo of the poor piggy.  I made the thumbnail smaller so you might not see what it is! At the end of the day I had someone snap a photo of me in my disgustingly dirty pants.  I'm hoping all that dirt comes out because Military Clothing Sales is out of all normal people size uniforms here at Misawa!


We also snapped a group shot before we left for the day.  It snowed on and off throughout the day, but it was really nice right before we left!  You can see in the group that there is both military and civilian helping out with the clean-up.


The family that owned this farm was so grateful for the help.  Since we were able to break everything down for them they can now burn and scrap all the rubble and start getting things cleared out to rebuild.  Even though it was 10 hours of hard muddy work it was totally worth it.  Having to work a 12 hour shift at my unit right after it kind of sucks, but I was off last night and got plenty of sleep.  

I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to get out and volunteer again, but i talked with my boss about tweaking our schedule to give all of the guys who work for me a chance to get out and volunteer.  The base is planning on continuing to support the local community as long as they need assistance and I think it's extremely important to show solidarity with the community and help them in this trying time.  Misawa Air Base is lucky to have excellent relations with the community and host nation, and volunteer efforts such as this will solidify those relations for years to come. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Misawa Red Cross Clean-up

Tomorrow I will be heading out with one of the Red Cross sponsored clean-up crews.  The base is sponsoring 2 trips a day to different areas and I'm not sure where we'll be going but I think most of the trips are heading down to Hachinohe now.  Work has been pretty slow since I came back from Ofunato.  With the search and rescue teams gone we're mainly supporting clean-up crews and the voluntary evacuation from northeast Japan.

Some of you may have seen that the State Department and DOD authorized family members of government employees to leave Japan.  I personally don't think the situation here is that bad, but about 10% of our dependent population on Misawa has volunteered to leave.  I know for my unit it's primarily dependents whose sponsor (the military member) is deployed that are leaving.

The situation on base has been steadily improving and power has been restored to almost all buildings on base.  We are under fairly strict conversation orders though and it's weird to walk around the base and be in buildings with only the bare minimum amount of lights on.  There has been a problem in the evenings with people not conserving at home and we have a contingency plan that will shut off power to buildings as necessary.  Sending some of those dependents home will probably help reduce our power consumption a decent amount!

Tomorrow night I will try to post any pics I take during the clean-up.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Back from Ofunato Pt. 2

I hope everyone reading this is feeling as amazing as I am right now!  Last night after I went to sleep I passed out for 14 hours and woke up today feeling better than I have all week.  Tomorrow I am back to work, but for now I get a chance to write a little bit about what I was doing in Ofunato.


When we were first tasked with taking a 10K AT down to Ofunato I was pretty sure that I was going to get to go since I was one of only a few people licensed to operate the trailer needed to transport it.  TSgt Myers, another 2T1 from my squadron, also had it on his license so we were paired up to transport it down to the USAID base camp at an elementary school in Ofunato.  As usual in Misawa, it had been warm during the day and temps had dropped below freezing at night and it started snowing a little.  We loaded the 10K on the lowboy trailer in the ice and snow and it was a little sketchy!  Below is a pic of our rig the morning before we headed out.  The International tractor we had hooked up is an American tractor, and although it is very nice it is not designed for Japan's tiny roads and sharp turns!


Getting through Misawa city in that tractor was one of the most difficult drives I ever had.  There was so much traffic and people were lined up on the one street trying to get into a gas station that had fuel.  This has become a common sight around Japan.  When a service station gets resupplied people line up and buy fuel until it goes dry.  Most of the gas stations you see are closed up since there isn't any fuel to sell.  Once we got off of the toll road, the Japanese equivalent of an Interstate Highway, and started going through some towns we could see that most grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and almost everything else was closed.  Below are some pictures TSgt Myers shot out of the window of people lining up to get fuel.  Since it is cans and not cars, I am thinking it was kerosene because that is what most Japanese houses use for heat.





When we were leaving Ofunato their were cars lined up all the way down the road to a fuel station.  From what I've heard some people have been waiting in lines for hours. 





As with any mission, no plan survives first contact and in our case that contact consisted of the Japanese National Police detouring us around a tunnel because of an accident.  The road they detoured us on to was definitely not made for the large tractor trailers we were driving and one of our guys blew out two tires on a curb.



We broke down in front of this house and the people came out to talk to us and thank us for coming.  The man that lived there even helped provide some tools to get the tires off.

That is TSgt Myers in the black cap and SSgt Garcia facing the camera.

We only had one spare for that trailer but our maintainers were able to repair the one tire by replacing the valve stem and setting the bead with some lighter fluid from a Zippo.  


We ended up making it to the USAID base camp with just a few hours of daylight left.  We downloaded our 10K and loaded up the flat bed trailers that had come down with us and sent them back to Misawa with the gear and passengers from the UK search team.  Capt. Fiol, TSgt Myers, A1C Coniglio and I stayed behind to help the USAID teams build there pallets and get home.  The USAID teams consisted of two specialized urban search and rescue, one from Los Angeles and one from Fairfax Virginia.  These were the teams we had supported earlier in the week to come down to Ofunato.



The four military personnel worked with the teams to get their pallets loaded and we worked all night and all the next day except for just a few hours to get some rest.



All of the men and women on the search teams were extremely friendly and professional.  They are the two teams in the US that are employed by USAID, United States Agency for International Development, to deploy to crisis zones and assist with search and rescue after national disasters.  They had just recently helped with the earthquake in both Haiti and New Zealand.  As I mentioned before, their main mission is search and rescue of survivors.  If their are no survivors it is a recovery mission.  With it being a week after the disaster, and with temperatures being as low as the have been this mission had changed to recovery.  The USAID teams will only stay on to assist with recovery if the host nation asks them to, but in this case they were not needed so they were being sent home.


The teams don't just consist of humans either.  Below are some of the search dogs that are trained to sniff out survivors for the humans to retrieve.  Everyone was sleeping in the gym of the school and the dogs slept on the cots with their handlers.  It must have been pretty warm for them because the heat turned off at about 0200 when the generator ran out of fuel (they need to run the generator dry because they can't fly with it if there is fuel in it).  I was unprepared the heater to turn off though and I spent the night freezing my ass off!  We all had a lot of laughs about it the next morning because some of the other guys had so much extra stuff they were sweating.  I was ill equipped because all of my gear is still en route from Texas, and hopefully isn't in one of those sea-lan containers I saw all messed up on the news.

They were some of the most well trained and friendliest dogs I have ever met.   Below are the dogs and their handlers from each team.

This is the virginia team and their dogs.

This is the LA team and their dogs.  I got a chance to hang out with Cadillac, the black lab in this photo. I had a black lab when I was younger and he was an awesome dog, not sure if he was smart enough to save people in a disaster though!

After helping the teams build up their pallets we were invited to take part in their group photos along with some of the local firemen that were there also.  Captain Fiol and I are on the right, and Technical Sergeant Myers and Airman First Class Coniglio are on the left.

This is the VA team.

This is the LA team.



Here is Tom Lions from the State Department talking with the VA team lead Joe Kaleda.  Tom and his team road down to Ofunato with our convoy and their car was right behind our trailer with the 10K on it.  We were a little worried about the height of the load since it was sitting just at 4 meters and the bridges aren't marked well in Japan.  Tom was a good sport about me asking him to catch the forklift if it came off the trailer!



These were all the pick-up trucks we supported the teams with from Misawa.

Here I am moving cargo in the AT.  It's not even work using that thing because it's so much fun to operate!

Some of the dunnage for the pallets was too long so we needed a saw.  The search and rescue guys were more than happy to accommodate.


video


The USAID team from VA gave the four of us some patches from their uniforms, and the guys from LA gave us some jerry cans of gasoline.  Later that night I felt like I knew what its going to be like when there is no gas in a few decades because I felt like the zombie apocalypse had already come when I was excitedly dumping fuel from a can into my Pajero in the pitch black night!  They gave me 10 gallons which has me sitting just over 3/4 of a tank.  Should last me almost 2 weeks since I will mainly just be driving to and from work!

I was safe the whole time except for the time when TSgt Myers drug the trailer tires through a ditch and almost dumped the whole rig.  We decided we weren't going to take about that though!  Overall it was a great trip.  We worked hard, but I was with a great group and we had a lot of laughs during the whole process.  

Back in 2008 I had gotten my BS in Computer Science and I was interviewing for jobs in the private sector to be a software engineer.  Due to a variety of reasons I decided to re-enlist and stay in the Air Force.  It's times like these that I know I made the right call. 

As we were driving to and from Ofunato people were coming out and waving and cheering for us.  The school we were staged at had the kids come in for some sort of graduation at noon yesterday and after the ceremony all the grade-schoolers came out to the window and yelled things like "Thank you", "We love you", and all sorts of stuff about thanking and loving America too!  No one cheers for the guy who writes the algorithm that determines your car insurance rate!  As you drive out the gate at Misawa there is a sign that says "You represent the United States, be a good Ambassador!"  I think these are the situations where we really shine and show everyone what America is all about.

I found an album on Flickr with a lot of pictures of people from around the base helping with clean-up efforts in our communities of Misawa and Hachinohe.  Lots of people have been volunteering with the clean-up and if I get some more time off I plan on doing the same.  My job is considered mission essential right now though so I may not be getting too much time off.  If you want to check out some of the photos the link is here below:


I am not sure what else we will be doing in the days to follow.  I do know we have some French and German teams on the base right now who will be helping with recovery, and we have to support the voluntary evacuation of  dependents from Northeast Japan.  I will do my best to keep anyone interested informed and if you have any specific questions leave them in a comment and I will try to answer if I can.

Thank you to everyone who left kind words of encouragement.  Everyone over here that I have spoken to is just glad to be able to help.  Everyone has a job to do and we're just doing ours!