OKOTA AIR BASE, Japan - The son of two Punta Gorda residents didn't know what to expect. He'd seen pictures of the devastation on television and in the newspapers, and he knew he had to help, but how? It didn't take long for him to find out.
Marine Corps Cpl. Richard A. Sanders, son of Sam Sanders, and Kim Sanders of Punta Gorda, was one of more than 20,000 U.S. military men and women, who have provided assistance in support of Operation Pacific Passage. The operation provides the authorized voluntary return of military family members from Japan in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan March 11. Operation Tomodachi provides humanitarian assistance and recovery operations to the people of Japan.
Operation Pacific Passage has airlifted more than 7,000 passengers and more than 400 pets via military and commercial aircraft from various locations in Japan, and Operation Tomodachi has resulted in more than 400 missions being flown, more than 2800 tons of cargo, and more than 400,000 pounds of fuel delivered. Military members are also assisting in the cleanup of communities and airports.
Marine Corps Cpl. Richard A. Sanders
"My role during the operation was to provide technical support for all types of communication equipment used by the general officers and their staff," said Sanders, who is a tech controller with the 7th Communications Battalion, Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan.
While nothing can totally prepare service members with the training they need to handle a disaster of this magnitude, the fact that they must be ready to deploy at a moment's notice has come in handy during this operation.
"This is the first time that I have been involved in a humanitarian assistance mission," said Sanders, who graduated in 2007 from Charlotte High School.
"I was more than prepared for the tasks that I was assigned due to the rapid exercise tempo at my unit."
Operations of this type are very important because they further demonstrate the longstanding and close working relationships that the United States has developed with many countries around the world over the years.
"Northern Japan essentially got wiped off the map," said Sanders. "Since we are close allies with the Japanese and only 300 miles south, we were obligated to help-we live on their sail."
Operation Tomodachi, or Operation Friendship, in the Japanese translation, means helping friends. For Sanders and the others, it has become more like helping family.
"I hope that our efforts aren't wasted," said Sanders. "I would like to come back in the future and see the results of our work."