Tomorrow, March 11, 2013, marks the two year anniversary of the devastation which has affected the beautiful country of Japan. This day brings with it a flood of emotions. I am so amazed at the resilience of the people of Japan and how they have picked up the pieces and have come back stronger than ever before imagined! They are a very humble people and I am grateful to know that I have lived in their country and they teach us what it really means to conquer and overcome! Oh, how I miss Japan and its people and I have a special prayer in my heart today for these wonderful people and all those who have been affected by this notable day!
I had my letter from Nuclear Medicine that stated I had been given RAI if I set off the monitors in the airport. I left Utah on May 27, 2011 and I was never happier to board a plane and be on my way back to my family. That was such a happy day to finally be on the land of Japan once again! However, I did have to spend the night in Haneda as I didn’t quite make it for the last flight to Misawa; the next morning I arrived in Misawa. Oh, how I missed all the green and beauty of Japan and the people. Finally, I was back with my family! When I came back, my husband would hardly let me out of his sight. I can’t blame him though, that separation was really difficult, and I guess I would be doing the same thing if roles were reversed.
Little did I know, that my arrival back in Japan would be short-lived. We knew with my cancer diagnosis and the fact that we were due to rotate back to the United States, that we could be leaving Japan shortly. I came back to Japan at the end of May and we got orders in July to transfer back to the state of Colorado. That was not too far from our family. I was very sad to leave Japan as I had just returned! It is just so heart wrenching having to say goodbye to so many good friends. So now we had to get ready for the move and I started going through all our belongings and trying to discard out old things. How do you discard thirteen years’ worth of belongings? We were busy over the next few months getting ready for the move. Finally, with much reservation I put in my resignation for the schools; they had held my job for me and I was ready to start substitute teaching again!
I was able to participate in relief efforts coordinated by churches and city organizations in the city of Centerville, Utah raising funds to help in assisting those in Japan. It was held at one of the local parks. They had a huge yard sell with selling pretty much anything! I was glad to be able to be doing something since I felt so helpless, as I couldn’t be there physically in assisting my Japanese neighbors during this difficult time. Throughout that event over $14,000 was raised to help the people of Japan. It was great being a part of relief efforts half way across the globe.
The military began Operation Tomadachi (which means “friend” in Japanese) alongside Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) in providing equipment and supplies to various earthquake and tsunami ravaged areas. Due to the damage to the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-chi power plant, the U.S. military had authorized the start of voluntary evacuation of family members from bases in mainland Japan to safe haven areas in the United States. We could have sent our daughters back to the states, but we decided that they were needed there more to help support my husband during this time. With all of the relief efforts and being the acting GM, my husband was coordinating efforts with the base commanders in support of obtaining supplies for the Misawa community. He had explained to me that right after the earthquake since there was no power, they had to supply customers at the Shoppette who needed basic essential items by using flashlights and making manual receipts with pen and paper. In addition, the base gas station had to initially ration the amount of fuel customers were receiving to ensure they had enough and urging people to use other modes of transport when necessary to conserve what fuel reserves they did have.
Many relief efforts began with various places on the base. Many collections of numerous items such as hygiene and household items, clothing, and nonperishable foods had begun. The base had filled the high school gym with donations which were organized and delivered to areas close to Sendai where there was fairly extensive damage. One organization, Misawa Helps is a volunteer organization where Airmen give their time and energy to work alongside civilians, dependents, joint service members and Japan Self-Defense Forces in areas requesting assistance. My husband and children were able to participate in those efforts. They went to the port city of Hachinohe removing fishing nets and cleaning debris from the area. It is so amazing to hear of all the collaborative efforts among the agencies in working together to help this beautiful country my family has been afforded the opportunity in living in. It just devastates me to see so many people displaced by this awful tragedy and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones.
I bounced back from surgery fairly quickly and was back working out in the gym the next day after I saw my surgeon for post op. I was so glad to finally be back in the gym and that felt like the most awesome workout! I think the reason that I bounced back so quickly is the fact that I have been so active prior to the surgery.
The next day was really hard for me…….I had to put my husband back on the plane to Japan as he needed to get back to work. I was left behind once again!
The day that my husband left was on March 3, 2011 and then later the following week on March 11, 2011, was the 9.0 magnitude Earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan! That day was the same day as my mother’s birthday; she will now have to share her birthday with Japan’s devastation. My husband and daughters lived through and survived that nightmare! I was getting ready to go to the gym when my dad said “You need to look at this” where on his computer screen was the news article about the Earthquake and Tsunami. I was frantically trying to dial my family in Japan. It was a sheer miracle that I was able to get through as most of all the cell towers went down. They were sitting in our house with no lights, no heat but were with each other. I had just talked with my husband about an hour previous to the earthquake hitting! I prayed that they would be kept safe. It was such a good thing that before I left I had just ensured that our emergency kit was up-to-date and available to use.
Watching the videos on the news is just so horrible what everyone is experiencing right now. At least my family was not located near the epicenter in Sendai, which had extensive damage to the area and is located approximately four hours from where we live. Jerome was the acting GM for the Exchange during this time, as his boss was on leave. Our daughters were at the Exchange at the time that the Earthquake hit. Jerome quickly had everyone evacuated from the building. The community of Misawa came to be a Command Center where the Relief teams were centered. This is such a sad situation for this beautiful country. However, at least they are not a poverty stricken nation like Haiti and I think that they will have the means to rebuild. I think that this is harder being separated from my family than going through the surgery. I have really come to appreciate all that is precious to me – my family!
To start off my story I must first explain about our experiences in living overseas as it is where this journey all began. It all seemed like it just happened yesterday……..my husband’s job afforded us the opportunity in living abroad where he has managed Food Court’s on military bases all over the world. We have been in many different places in the United States and have also been stationed overseas in which we have had the privilege of living in Japan for the last thirteen years. We initially came to Japan in 1998 shortly after my husband had come back from serving a six-month tour in Bosnia with his company AAFES (Army, Air Force Exchange Service), which is a branch of the DOD (Department of Defense) for the military. It is hard to believe that they actually have a Food Court in the middle of a war zone, but it is amazing what they can do for the troops.
We were stationed at Camp Zama, Japan which is an Army base located approximately twenty-five miles from Tokyo and our family spent six wonderful years there from August 1998 – May 2004. We had many great experiences there and were able to see and explore the culture and country of Japan. During our time at Camp Zama, I was initially volunteering at the school that our children attended and eventually was hired on with DODDS (Department of Defense Dependent Schools) as an office assistant, but later transferred to a job as a Special Education Paraeducator working with special needs children. I really enjoyed that job and the children that I worked with, but later I had the opportunity to move in another direction and became a Substitute Teacher. The majority of my time with that position still afforded me the experience in continuing to work with special needs children.
Many of the opportunities in seeing and exploring Japan were through the schools with the various field trips that I took with my children’s classes and those that I taught in. We also were able to explore the country on our own as well visiting many temples and shrines, tasting the unique cuisine of Japan and going to the shopping districts in Tokyo with the variety of shops that have an assortment of merchandise to include traditional souvenirs. In addition, we were able to immerse ourselves in many of the numerous festivals which take place throughout the country both near Tokyo and others in Northern Japan.
Living in a foreign country enables you to learn another language. Although learning the Japanese language is not an easy task, it is something I wished I would have immersed myself into more; however, I learned enough of the language to get by while shopping in stores, restaurants and so forth. My husband on the other hand, he dealt with the language on a daily basis as most of his employees were Japanese. Being affiliated with the military you meet so many people from all kinds of backgrounds. The only bad part about that is that people come through in and out rather quickly and so you only get to know them for a short time and then it’s time for them to PCS and move to another location.
In 2004, we received orders to PCS again, but were afforded the unique opportunity of staying in Japan at another location in Northern Japan at Misawa Air Base. We spent the next seven years at that location. We have really enjoyed living abroad and it has been a wonderful place to raise our two daughters in such a rich culture with really wonderful people. How many people can say that they have lived in a foreign country for over thirteen years? I consider our family very fortunate to have had this opportunity. Most military people definitely don’t stay in one place for too long, usually it is a year or two and then it’s time for relocation.
Northern Japan is different from other parts of the country as it is mostly agricultural areas and is a lot different than Tokyo, which can be really busy city life. Misawa is very relaxed and you don’t feel the hustle and bustle like there is in city living. I think that I enjoyed living in Misawa the most, because of the relaxed environment. Japan is truly what they call “the land of the rising sun,” as it really does rise quite early in the morning. I can recall many times, especially during the summer months in Misawa when the sun would rise between 03:30 and 04:00 in the morning, which was something that I had to get used to.
Misawa is a really great place and a wonderful community where everyone knows you well. When we had moved to Misawa I was able to secure another substitute teaching position with DODDS, at the schools on the base. Since we were civilians, we had to live off-base but had a really wonderful house that was considered a Japanese home, but with a bit of American standards. The neighborhood we lived in we were surrounded by many Japanese neighbors, but it was also mixed in with many Americans as well. Life was going really great and I really enjoyed my substitute teaching job and had some great experiences working mainly with special needs children again, which I absolutely loved. In addition, I taught an amazing group of youth for my church.