In the past 75 years, the U.S. military has built close ties with the Japanese military, and the two sides are now putting this cooperation to the test as the Asian island nation digs out from one of the worst disasters in its history.
President Barack Obama said Saturday that one U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, was already off the coast of Japan, and another was on its way. Washington has also dispatched urban search and rescue teams, according to U.S. Ambassador John Roos.
CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that the USS Reagan is serving as a "lily pad" for Japanese helicopters, i.e. a place to land and refuel. Reagan has a supply ship with it, so it will be able to keep refueling Japanese helicopters indefinitely. There are two escort ships with the USS Reagan and four more destroyers on the way to conduct Search and Rescue.
The next big deck ship to arrive will be the Tortuga, probably sometime tomorrow. It has just finished loading heaving lift MH-53 helos in Korea and is en route to Honshu. The Essex, an amphibious ship carrying a Marine Expeditionary Unit is in the South China Sea but still a couple days away. It will rendezvous with two other amphibious ships: Harpers Ferry and Germantown.
The Blue Ridge, a command ship loaded with relief supplies, has left Singapore but it will get to Japan after Essex.
This is very different from Haiti where the local government had no resources and was basically helpless until the U.S. military arrived. The Japanese have hundreds of helicopters.
Marines and sailors from the Third Marine Expeditionary Force are part of the group headed for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in mainland Japan, according to a Marine spokesman. The support will include sending "command and control, staff assistance, KC-130J cargo aircraft and CH-46E transport helicopters from Okinawa to mainland Japan to provide critically needed assistance. Additional aircraft and supplies will continue to be moved in the next several days," the Marines said in a press release.
The marines and sailors will join the operations of 50,000 Japanese troops that Prime Minister Naoto Kan said have joined rescue and recovery efforts, aided by boats and helicopters.
In a statement, U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said: "As long time allies, U.S. and Japan forces as are extremely interoperable. U.S. Forces Japan is in constant contact with their JSDF counterparts as we continue to support their operations to aid the people of Japan."
The statement also listed all DOD assistance to the relief effort to date, which include:
- The USS Ronald Reagan is on station off the coast of Japan and is expected to provide refueling support to Japan Self-Defense Force helicopters conducting disaster relief operations.
- U.S. military assets are supporting the requests of the Government of Japan. To date, logistical support has included facilitating the delivery of rice. Two SH-60 helicopters from Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Fourteen (HS-14) from Naval Air Facility Atsugi delivered 1,500 pounds of rice and bread to Shiroishi City in Miyagi Prefecture. The food donation was from the people of Ebina City, Japan.
- Yokota Air Base received more than 10 commercial airliners diverted from Narita International Airport following the earthquake and resulting tsunami.
- Additional U.S. military assets continue to position themselves to provide the most expedient support needed at the request of the Government of Japan.