A Report from Sasebo, Japan: The Military Community Pulls Together to Help


As mentioned in the previous post, our new contributor John Avelis sends this account of what's happening on the ground in Japan and how the military community has pulled together to assist the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. He also tells us how we can help.

From John:

Greetings from Sasebo! Here in the far west of Japan, life is going on as normal. We are on the island of Kyushu, hundreds of miles from Tokyo and Fukushima, so for the most part we're not making the news. The initial earthquake and aftershocks haven't been felt here and the tsunami was just a slight rise in the water level in the harbor.

The first way the quake affected us was a rush of phone calls, emails, tweets and facebook posts from our friends in the States who weren't really sure how far away we were from the quake and tsunami and wanted to make sure we were OK. We all enjoyed hearing from so many people and appreciated their concern, but after several days of answering the same questions, some of my friends started to wonder if anyone was listening when we said "No, really, we're fine."

The base itself has been relatively empty with so many of the ships out to sea for the relief effort known as Operation Tomodachi (Japanese for "friends"), but as an important supply and logistics base, Sasebo has been extremely busy behind the scenes supporting all the US forces that have converged to support Japan. We couldn't be more proud of our husbands and wives who are supporting the effort here in Sasebo and out at sea.

We're also not affected by the voluntary departure programs or the distribution of iodide pills that seem to be causing a stir at US bases in the Kanto region. After doing my own research, I concluded that even if my son and I were at Yokosuka or Atsugi, we would be staying put -- the negligible risk at those bases wouldn't justify being uprooted. Catch me in a less temperate moment and I might say that it embarrasses me to see so many Americans setting a bad example and failing in our role as ambassadors by running away when our always-generous host country is in their moment of greatest need ... but it's best not to get into that, I suppose.

We don't know for sure, but many of us agree with our Japanese friends and neighbors that the foreign media haven't done a good job of portraying just how quickly life has gone back to normal for the parts of the country outside the areas directly affected by the quakes and tsunami. I'm in contact with Tokyo-area expats who say that after a few days of issues with transit, life there has mostly returned to normal, with the exception of many aftershocks and some planned power outages.

Just like the rest of us, they're looking for ways to help the hundreds of thousands of cold and homeless in the north. Here in Sasebo, the volunteer thrift store run by our officer spouses club has become a donation point for our local military families. Being so close to the disaster but relatively unaffected, our community has seen an outpouring of generosity as people empty out the unused warm clothes from their closets and bring box after box of baby formula and diapers for transport and distribution in the north. You can see just a little bit of one day of work in this facebook gallery.

It makes me proud of our community and our country, that so many people whose lives weren't disrupted at all by the disasters are being so generous in their support of our Japanese hosts. Now that demand for immediate relief needs is decreasing, we're looking for ways to help northern Japan get back to normal in the long term.

Our family and friends in the states keep asking us how they can help -- the situation has been changing quickly, but for people not in Japan, the best way to directly support the victims of this disaster is to go to Google's Japan crisis webpage where you can make a donation directly to the Japanese Red Cross or several other organizations who have been on the ground helping since the beginning.

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