LIANE HANSEN, Host:
NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports that the relief operation may help to bolster the U.S.-Japan alliance, which has experienced recent friction over the issue of U.S. military bases in Japan.
(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)
ANTHONY KUHN: Marine Colonel Andy MacInnis says the Essex has heavy lifting capabilities that the Japanese need.
C: I think that's why they've come to us is there's a couple of places that they couldn't quite get to with all of their assets. And they've asked us to use our helos, pick up some supplies somewhere and get it to places where they can't access by roads right now.
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KUHN: Taking all this in is Captain Ide Masanori, a liaison officer with Japan's Self-Defense Forces. He's aboard the Essex to find out what it could can to relief efforts. He says he's worked with the crew of the Essex before but not under anything like the current circumstances.
C: We have long history of experiences of how to deal with natural disaster, as a disaster relief operation. But this is out of our imagination, right? In entire Japanese history, this is the largest natural disaster.
KUHN: The Essex is part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. It's based on the Japanese island of Okinawa, the only such unit permanently based in Asia. While the unit conducts training in exchanges with most Asian militaries, Rear Admiral Scott Jones says that its ties with Japan are particularly close. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: While the Essex does carry members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, it actually belongs to the 7th Fleet.]
R: It's all about, you know, communicating and building those relationships, because you just can't surge that trust and confidence in people. It has to be built over time. And that's what I think you see here.
KUHN: Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, says that Operation Tomadachi will help Tokyo and Washington put the military base issue behind them, at least for now.
P: The earthquake and its aftermath have really, you know, suspended the whole business of government, not just on the U.S. base issue but broadly on many other topics.
KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.
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