By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ben Farone
Naval Air Facility Atsugi Public Affairs
KOORIYAMA, Japan – Twenty-three Chief Petty Officer (CPO) selectees and nine CPOs from Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi area commands participated in the 7th annual Tomioka Town Social Welfare Center summer festival in Kooriyama, Japan Aug. 25, 2018.
According to Sumie Maruyama, NAF Atsugi Community Relations Specialist, the festival began as a way to reunite citizens from Tomioka who were displaced in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan’s Tohoku region.
“The purpose of the festival is to bring together everybody who had to evacuate from Tomioka town to different cities. Kooriyama is one of the biggest towns that people from Tomioka evacuated to, as you can see from the temporary housing set up here,” said Maruyama. “There used to be thousands of people living here. Some people were able to move back to Tomoika, but some people had to stay here in Kooriyama city.”
The relationship between NAF Atsugi and the Tomioka Town Social Welfare Center began in 2012, when several groups from the installation came together to make donations to the citizens relocated to Kooriyama.
“I was contacted by the director of the social welfare center, where we’ve been donating toys and other items for the last several years. They wanted to see us and interact in person. Some of the volunteers here have visited NAF Atsugi and they wanted us to come here and share this experience with them,” said Maruyama.
For Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class, Stephen Schmidt, from Spring Lake Park, Minn., a CPO selectee participating in this year’s performances, though some events were a bit out of the ordinary, they helped develop practical applications for the future.
“We did the Sailors Creed, we did a Japanese cadence and sang Anchors Aweigh,” said Schmidt. “Near the end, we did the “Cupid Shuffle” and tried to get the Japanese attendees to join in.”
“It was definitely outside the comfort zone; it’s not something we do on a daily basis, but it’s something we can use in an everyday application such as training within the mess or command. We had an idea of what we were going to do today but things changed a bit so we had to adapt and overcome which is what we do on a daily basis.”
Schmidt also noted a unique component of this year’s group of selectees that helped show the strong connection between the two nations and their military services.
“We have two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) members with us for this year’s initiation and by having one of them call a cadence (in Japanese) for us, it helped demonstrate our close partnership with the JMSDF,” said Schmidt.
NAF Atsugi Command Master Chief Daniel Irwin, a Colorado Springs, Colo. native felt the relationship building and confluence of cultures were the highlights of the festival.
“We came to this summer festival to support the people of Tomioka in their reunion and share with them a little bit of American hospitality. My favorite aspect of today’s festival was having our Chiefs and CPO selectees integrate with the folks here, mix cultures and to see the different aspects of their culture that they shared with us. We wanted to show one of our closest allies, Japan, that we’re here to help, we are glad to be part of the community and we want to do whatever we can to foster this relationship.”
Though this was the first year the installation’s Sailors participated in the festival, Irwin hopes to make return trips an Atsugi tradition.
“What I’d like to see moving forward is us participating in this festival every year. Not only because it supports the evacuees, but it also helps people understand what we’re here to do, and that’s to truly be partners with the Japan Self-Defense Forces and gracious guests of our host nation.”
For more information about Naval Air Facility Atsugi, visit https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrj/installations/naf_atsugi.html or like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/naf.atsugi/, or on Twitter @NAFAtsugiJP