Water survival skills embraced while remembering Operation Tomodachi

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Members from The Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research held training on “Uitemate” at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 12.

Uitemate is a water survival technique used to float in the water long enough to be rescued. This training was one way to say “thank you” for all U.S. forces' efforts and aid in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in this country.

March 11 marked six years since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the northeastern coast of Japan, initiating Operation Tomodachi, the assistance relief effort conducted by the Government of Japan and the U.S.

“If you break down the word “Uite” meaning float and “Mate” meaning wait for rescue, [this is the appropriate Japanese word to use],” explained Mr. Hidetoshi Saitoh, President of The Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research. “We are here to teach this as a way of saying thank you for Operation Tomodachi…we appreciate you for your cooperation.”

Mr. Jun Abe, a professional diver and Uitemate instructor from Miyagi Prefecture, talked about his experience on 3/11.

“I thought we would never recover,” he said with a crack in his voice, “many people’s houses were destroyed because of it, but with the help from U.S. Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force…the Misawa Air Base community and their kind hands, we did.”

Abe explained how Higashimatsushima City in the Miyagi Prefecture, near the sea, was destroyed. He and his wife were swallowed up by the tsunami and were carried several hundred meters down river. They survived using Uitemate until help from the U.S. military arrived.

“You Americans helped us Japanese people…we will never forget your help,” said Abe “I am very happy to hold a special training program on water safety and survival called Uitemate, especially here at Misawa Air Base.”

After the lecture, Misawa Air Base members were given hands on training in the pool.
They learned how to float in the water for an extended period, how to breathe, and how to use their shoes and empty water bottles to float, all while being reminded to keep their chins up and remain calm.

“It’s such a great honor that they [The Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research] came out here to teach us these skills so we can pass this along to others,” said Airman 1st Class Sarah Rose, 35th Maintenance Squadron aircraft electrical and environmental systems technician. “Knowing these skills they taught today…it makes me feel more confident and that is amazing.”

Members from Misawa walked away with a better understanding of what happened six years ago along with new water survival skills.

“I felt it was really important to understand how they felt six years ago when the tsunami happened and seeing the emotion on their face,” said Rose “Now I have a better understanding, and I can help and teach others to use Uitemate if this happens again.”

Although a devastating natural disaster, the response and continuing teamwork six years later is a perfect demonstration of the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the close friendship between the military forces. Operation Tomodachi demonstrated the speed, agility and responsiveness of the Jieitai and U.S. forces to come together as one to overcome even the greatest of adversities.