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This is the story of the 353 Special


Operations Group’s response to the Great East Earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station. The mission to open Sendai International Airport is a great exam- ple of how the inherent capabilities of Air Force Special Operations Forces (AFSOF), when partnered with host nation civil and military personnel and our joint partners, can provide immedi- ate response to aid our allies around the world during a humanitarian crisis. At 1446L on 11 March 2011, a


massive earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale struck 81 miles east of Sendai on Japan’s main island of Honshu. The earthquake triggered a 30 foot high tsunami that came ashore approximately 45 minutes after the quake and ravaged nearly 350 miles of coastline on the East side of Honshu Island. The tsunami swept across cities and villages along the Pacific coast of the Tohuku district, causing tremendous human suffering and structural damage. The Prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima are severely impacted. As the tsunami retreated back to the sea, over 500,000 persons were displaced, 15,729 were killed, 5,719 injured and 4,539 remain listed as missing as of 18 August 2011. The tsunami swept over both Matsushima Air Base and Sendai International Airport (IAP) rendering them unusable. Sendai IAP remained under 7 feet of water for several days and both fields suffered significant dam- age to infrastructure and were strewn with hundreds of vehicles, aircraft, trees, houses, and human remains. On the eve- ning of 11 March 2011, Japan’s Foreign Minister Matsumoto formally requested United States Ambassador Roos for the assistance of United States Forces Japan. (USFJ). Large-scale humanitar- ian assistance and disaster relief (HA/ DR) activities were conducted under Operation Tomodachi, which is the Japanese word for Friend. At the time of the Great East


Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the 353 Special Operations Group (SOG) had 3 x MC-130H, 3 x MC-130P air- craft and 346 personnel deployed to Daegu Air Base, Republic of Korea


(ROK) participating in Joint Chiefs of Staff exercise FOAL EAGLE in support of United States Forces Korea (USFK). Deployed SOG forces were under the Operational Control (OPCON) of the Commander, Special Operations Command Korea (COMSOCKOR) executing command and control of all combined SOF aviation forces through a Joint Special Operations Aviation Center (JSOAC). Within minutes of the tsunami com-


ing ashore, the men and women of the 353 SOG had begun an accountability recall of all personnel and dependents, then began preparations to provide aid to the people of Japan. Initial planning and course of action (COA) develop- ment was conducted by the 353 Expeditionary Special


Operations


Group located at Daegu AB and presented to both COMSOCKOR and COMSOCPAC for decision. On the morn- ing of 12 March 2011, the 353 SOG received a verbal command (VoCo) order from United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) to deploy a command element, 3 x MC-130Ps and a special tactics team to Yokota Air Base under the tac- tical control (TACON) USFJ in support of Operation Tomodachi. The first MC-130P car- rying advance forces and special tactics person- nel arrived on 12 March 2011. The remaining two MC-130Ps and command element closed at Yokota AB on 13 March 2011. Within hours of arriving on 12


March 2011 at Yokota AB, members of the 320th Special Tactics Team led by Major John Traxler began aerial and ground site assessments of the affected area. Utilizing MH-60s flown by the 33d Rescue Squadron, STS person- nel conducted aerial reconnaissance of Yamagata Airport, Hanamaki Airport, Matsushima Air Base, and Sendai


38 │ AIR COMMANDO JOURNAL │ Fall 2011


International Airport. On 13 Mar 11, Colonel Toth held


a video teleconference (VTC) with all of his squadron commanders, the JSOAC-K staff located at Daegu, the JSOAC-J staff located at Yokota AB Japan and 353 SOG rear at Kadena AB Japan. The VTC provided a command- er’s update brief (CUB) focused on the humanitarian and nuclear crisis unfold- ing on the Japanese mainland cased by the tsunami. At the conclusion of the VTC, Colonel Toth directed detailed mission planning to develop concepts of operation (CONOPS) for operating HA/ DR missions into Miyagi Prefecture’s


Senior Airman Steven nizbet, 320th Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman, looks for trapped survivors. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse)


three main airfields of Yamagata Airport, Matsushima Air Base, and Sendai International Airport. Colonel Toth reposition to Yokota


AB on 14 March and stood up JSOAC-J under the operational control of SOCPAC and tactical control of USFJ. Immediately upon arrival, Colonel Toth received an update brief from Lt Colonel Carroll, JSOAC-J Battle Staff Director and then attended the USFJ CUB. Following the USFJ CUB, Major


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