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No.186 (4/22/11)

Volunteering in a time of great need Misawa AB personnel and locals team up to clean up

By Robert Finley
Chief Writer

"Everybody can be great -- because anybody can serve." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nowhere, it seems, is this more evident than right here in the Misawa community, where people of all ages, races, sizes, and backgrounds have come together with a common goal -- to help those in need.

The March 11 disaster that struck Northern Japan left a trail of destruction unmatched in recent history, a trail of wreckage that leads from the areas affected below us in Sendai, all the way up here to Misawa, and also in the nearby towns of Oirase and Hachinohe.

Immediately following the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami waves generated by it, the base saw an influx of emergency personnel from the U.S. and abroad, from far away places such as France, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK. Misawa became a staging area of sorts for search and rescue teams, as well as a shelter for those who might be displaced by the disaster. In the days after, however, once it became clear that the search and rescue mission had over, the focus shifted to relief and clean up efforts.

In the immediate days after the disaster, many people on base already were clamoring ways to help. Donations to the Red Cross, though vitally important, didn't seem like enough for many. The Misawa Welfare Center began accepting specific donations for those affected locally, and people responded by donating towels, dry foods, diapers, undergarments, medical kits, and so on. Then, the base itself stepped in, organizing cleanup trips based on requests from local community leaders.

Hachinohe, a city hit particularly hard by the disaster, was one of the first places the Misawa cleanup crews visited. The crews, consisting of active duty personnel, retirees, dependents, and civilians, boarded the big blue buses usually seen on ITT trips with work boots, gloves, shovels, and other equipment. What they saw was harrowing -- huge boats laying on their sides in the streets, with smaller boats scattered about; mud everywhere; starfish and other sea life, stuck in fences and in-between objects; and the ruins of homes an businesses. The volunteers spent numerous hours and made multiple trips there, helping clear roads, land, and clean out the wreckage, making a huge difference in a short amount of time. In Oirase, many volunteers were taken to a small pig farm, where reports stated that, out of 2,000 pigs that lived there, less than 400 made it out of the tsunami alive. Volunteers often had the grim task of assisting in removal of the pigs and piglets that didn't survive, and also had to brave the wreckage, where they faced uneven grounds and a plethora of ways one can be cut or stabbed, as was the case when many people accidentally stepped on rusty nails. This didn't deter any of them, however, and by the end of the volunteers' time there, everyone saw significant improvement.

Just down the road, some volunteers were taken right to the beach, where netting and other fishing equipment was tangled up and wrapped around trees. There, volunteers stacked large bundles of rope, buoys, and other items, and spent a lot of time untangling the expensive nets.

After accomplishing quite a bit at the beach and the pig farm, volunteers began to make their way to various farms in the area, helping clear the rubble of the greenhouses and remove all of the metal and plastic so that the farmers could begin to repair the land. As workers made their way through the neighborhoods, they were often greeted by the locals who lived there, who emerged from their homes just to say thank you.

Each trip has had dozens of volunteers, so many that, on occasion, they've had to take people on standby. It seems that Misawa will be running these volunteer cleanup trips for the near future, so now is the time to be great, do something good, and help the local community. To volunteer, please contact Misawa Helps at DSN 226-3757, or visit them to sign up in person in the Mokuteki Ballroom.

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