Commander Accepts Award, Reflects on Operation Tomodachi
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2011 The commander of U.S. forces during Operation Tomodachi in Japan earlier this year accepted an award Nov. 15 on behalf of the service members he credited with making the humanitarian assistance and disaster response mission a success.
The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York presented Navy Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, its “Eagle on the World” award for his leadership during the operation.
Operation Tomodachi, named for the Japanese word for “friendship,” was launched after Japan experienced a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, followed by a nuclear crisis. U.S forces responded with air, sea and ground capability and expertise, as well as military equipment.
Walsh, who oversaw U.S. military support for the mission, noted during a telephone interview the many responders who “were part of something quite extraordinary, working under extraordinary conditions at a remarkable time in history.”
“They’re the Yokosuku [Naval Base] sailors,” he said. “They’re the Okinawa Marines [based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma]. They’re the Yokota and Misawa [air base] airmen. They’re the [Camp] Zama soldiers.”
Walsh also singled out the medical personnel, logisticians, technical specialists and naval reactor teams who lent their specialized capabilities to the mission.
“When you put it all together, I think the joint support force concept best encapsulates all the work that was done,” he said. “And it really was a unity of effort that brought us to a much better outcome than when we landed.”
The story of Operation Tomodachi “goes beyond the simple delivery of logistics or the complex problem of consequence management,” the admiral said.
It’s the story of two countries able to provide a strong, coordinated response based on a foundation of respect and friendship, he said. A critical part of that story, he noted, was their ability to adapt to meet unforeseen and escalating challenges head-on.
Traditional planning and organizational concepts simply didn’t work during Operation Tomadachi, Walsh said. Vertical, hierarchical command-and-control arrangements couldn’t keep pace with the escalating challenges.
“It required us to work horizontally, and in a way that was collaborative and transparent,” he said.
Planners and responders relied heavily on the “power of information,” Walsh said, that enabled them to work side by side in difficult, sometimes dangerous and always changing operational environment.
“This was a cascading set of casualties, the magnitude of which was beyond anything that we had ever either witnessed or experienced in the course of our careers,” he said. “So preparing for something like this was just not possible.”
Walsh credited investments made in education and collaboration with ensuring the response forces were prepared to face these challenges.
“To have people who are prepared to work in an environment where it is going to be something that is out of left field -- something they have never experienced or been exposed to -- and be effective in that kind of environment requires a level of collaboration,” he said. “It requires relationships and it requires a level of readiness.”
Walsh said Operation Tomodachi validated the concept of ready and responsive forward-deployed forces. They’re critical, he said, to face the broad range of security challenges as well as natural disasters in an earthquake-prone region known as the “Ring of Fire.”
“As long as there is any challenge to peace, prosperity and security in the region, I think our work continues,” he said. “And to be responsive and adaptable in that kind of environment requires us to be a ready force, and forward.”
Walsh said he felt honored and humbled to become first military member to receive the “Eagle on the World” award, presented each year to leaders credited with strengthening U.S.-Japan relations and promoting peace, freedom and prosperity.
Past recipients include Henry Kissinger, Walter Mondale, Katherine Graham, William Perry and George Schultz.