Service Members Assist Japanese Quake Victims

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2011 - Japan's earthquake and tsunami are tragedies on an epic scale, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today, and the U.S. military will do all it can to help.

The United States has about 50,000 military personnel in Japan and already has responded to some immediate needs for the people of northern Japan.

"We've got about ... a dozen ships that are either there or en route, a lot of aircraft associated with those ships." Morrell said in an MSNBC interview this morning. "They have been doing search-and-rescue operations, and they have been providing relief supplies as well."

The situation is further complicated by the conditions of Japanese nuclear plants affected by the quakes. Some Navy airmen and sailors participating in relief missions off the USS Ronald Reagan have been exposed to radiation that leaked from these plants. The exposure was at such low levels that they washed it off with soap and water, Morrell said.

"They've since moved the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group [from the] downwind area of that Fukushima plant," Morrell said.

U.S. servicemembers are standing by to deliver what aid the Japanese need, and the number of U.S. personnel involved in aid efforts will rise and fall, depending on Japanese needs, he added.

The USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group continues operations off the east coast of Honshu, Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said today. The United States has eight ships east of Honshu with five more on the way.

"In the upcoming days, the Ronald Reagan will serve as an afloat platform for helicopters from the Japan Self-defense Force, the Japanese coast guard and other civilian authorities," Lapan said.

"We conducted air operations today with 10 helicopters from the Naval Station in Atsugi and the USS Reagan flying relief missions identifying people in need of assistance in the region of Minato, and delivered food and blankets," he continued. The choppers also flew surveys of the at-sea debris field and flew search-and-rescue missions along the coast.

The USS Tortuga, with heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters, is steaming toward the eastern coast. "They will on-load 300 Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force personnel and 90 vehicles and deliver them to the northern tip of Honshu," Lapan said. Other U.S. ships are expected to arrive in the area March 17.

The Navy has P-3 Orion aircraft flying to help in area surveying efforts.

Lapan said no U.S. bases are in the danger zone for radioactivity, and that there are no plans to evacuate any U.S. personnel or their families.

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