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36th AS, 374th LRS deliver relief supplies to Matsushima, Japan
CHITOSE AIR BASE, Japan -- A C-130 Hercules assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, prepares to transport humanitarian relief supplies from Chitose Air Base, Japan, to Matsushima, Japan, March 23. The six pallets that were transported contained 15,000 pounds of water, rice and blankets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robin Stanchak)
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The view from my window

Posted 3/24/2011   Updated 3/24/2011 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Robin Stanchak
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

3/24/2011 - YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- This was going to be my first flight up north since the earthquake and tsunami struck March 11. I was both eager and anxious to finally see what I, like so many others, had been supporting with 12+ hour work days and no days off.

The mission was pretty straight forward: The C-130 Hercules crew assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron here at Yokota, along with two members from the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron combat mobility flight, were to fly up to Chitose Air Base, a Japan Air Self-Defense Force base located in Chitose, Hokkaido, Japan's second largest island.

Once there, they were to pick up six pallets of humanitarian relief supplies, including water, blankets and rice, and deliver it down south to Matsushima.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Matsushima was located in the Miyagi prefecture, one of the hardest hit areas in Japan. It would be on the descent during our landing at Matsushima that I would finally see just how bad things really were there.

Once we arrived at Chitose Air Base, both the JASDF and 374th LRS members worked to inspect the cargo so that the relief supplies could be uploaded on to our C-130. Once it was cleared, everyone worked quickly to get the pallets onboard.

I can tell you this was no easy task. Not only was the freezing temperature and constant wind almost unbearable, but the snow that pushed down on us during the supply upload made it far from a pleasant experience.

But the weather didn't seem to slow anyone in their efforts; it was as though they all knew just how important these supplies were to those who were waiting for them.

Now because there were six pallets packed into this C-130, it made the available seating very limited, to say the least. When it was all said and done, the crew managed to provide me with a small section to sit on during the hour-long flight down to Matsushima. It was from this seat that I was able to see out of a small window down onto the Japanese countryside beneath us.

The sun had already begun to set, and, as the night started to darken the world below, I could see the lights from the houses and cars as we passed over them. Even as a child, I enjoyed looking out of the airplane window as we flew over cities and towns, wondering where we were and who was out there.

As we began our descent, I noticed at one point that the lights in those houses and buildings were all off, and that just a few car lights could be seen. It was strange to see so much light from below and then practically nothing.

At first, I thought it was just another scheduled power outage; those are pretty common throughout Japan these days. But as we got closer, I finally understood what I was actually seeing, and it was at that moment that I was filled with sadness and heartbreak.

As I looked on in complete disbelief, I could see houses with only the roof tops visible above the water. The roadways had been completely washed away; only the street signs hanging high above them could still be seen. Cars and trucks were submerged under water, while boats and vessels lay on their sides grounded in the mud.

As I turned back around in my seat and stared at those six pallets of cargo full of 15,000 pounds of relief supplies, I understood on a new level just how important all of this was and that what we were doing really mattered.

As we touched down on a desolate runway in Matsushima, the aircraft came to a stop and the supplies were offloaded by Japanese workers to be taken by a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter unit to distribution centers around the city.

What stood out in my mind as the last pallet was taken off the aircraft were the faces of those Japanese workers. In the midst of all this despair and devastation they were still smiling. As the aircraft door began to shut, I could see them clapping and waving to us onboard as a way to say thank you for bringing relief supplies.

As I smiled and waved back to them, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and honor to be a part of something so important.

3/25/2011 10:53:39 AM ET
Thank you for the insight. Everyone in the U.S. does want to understand how things are. As Mom to Crewman Trevor Larsson I really want to understand. Keep up the great work.
Janisse Larsson, Plymouth MI
3/24/2011 1:51:26 PM ET
Great story so sad for the Japanese people but I know that they will move on and be strong. Japan is such a wonderful country and I miss it dearly God bless
Rachell Miller, Sacramento CA
3/24/2011 8:39:17 AM ET
SSgt Robin Stanchak thank you for sharing your experience in providing suppliesfood to our fellow Japanese nationals You make me proud to be your best friend Keep up your excellent efforts God Bless you
Christa Sullinger, Barksdale AFB LA
3/24/2011 6:51:55 AM ET
Bravo Robin Thank you for sharing.
janet , Fussa Tokyo Japan
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