Defense Activities

Interview

Then Chief of Staff, Joint Staff Ryoichi Oriki

Then Chief of Staff, Joint Staff Ryouichi Oriki

─ What did you think you should begin with when the Great East Japan Earthquake occured?

Assessing the situation was the first priority: where it occured, how big it was, etc.

Right after the quake hit, I went to the operation center immediately to find these things out. Watching the news that had begun, I learned that this was no ordinary quake.

That it was going to require a major effort from the SDF was the first thing I thought.

─ What were the difficulties this earthquake brought to you as then Chief of Staff of Joint Staff?

I formed up the SDF’s first Joint Task Force (JTF). At headquarters, we thought about how to support this task force and what functions we would give to it.

This was also the first time we worked together with the United States on such a large disaster. The U.S. Forces was quick to arrive with support, and we considered how to undertake this operation smoothly.

Probably the biggest challenge this time was the fact that we had to work in radioactive conditions. As the Chief of Staff, it was my job to not only achieve my mission but to also ensure the safety of fellow SDF members. Having to achieve both of these goals was very difficult.

─ What are your thoughts in looking back on Operation Tomodachi?

The U.S. Forces has my heartfelt gratitude for its quick response.

I believe the success of this operation was due to a combination of the Japan— U.S. Alliance we have had for half a century and the interpersonal relationships we have developed, not to mention the training we have done together and organizational ties we have formed.

I believe the U.S. government saw the situation as a terrible disaster that befell to an important ally. Being able to work with the U.S. Forces in Operation Tomodachi was a symbol of the strong alliance our countries share.

─ What were the difficulties involved in the support received from other countries, including Australia?

We received help in the form of supplies and other things from the militaries of the U.S., Australia, and various other nations. Australia assisted with transport missions in C-17 transport planes, and right away we began receiving warm support from countries like Canada and Korea through letters of condolence and other means.

Deciding how and where to use the support offered by these countries was not easy, but I feel that everything worked out rather well.

Whether we are talking about domestic or international dispatches, a single country cannot manage all disaster relief operations on its own. Going forward, we will now need to utilize the experience gained from this crisis and think about how we can cooperate with other countries and offer effective support to others.

Then Chief of Staff, Joint Staff Ryouichi Oriki

─ What are the differences between the activities performed by the SDF and other countries' militaries?

I think all countries are different when it comes to systems related to disaster relief as well as the approaches to these initiatives. To compare Japan with the U.S., for example, it could be said that the SDF conducts duties performed by both the National Guard and the Federal Forces. In Japan, regimental commanding officers in theater receive requests for disaster relief and then respond quickly. This is one area where our two countries differ.

Also, SDF is normally in a posture of readiness and can immediately mobilize troops for disaster relief as well as to gather information. We are also always on standby so that we can provide quick initial response. Areas like these are where I feel we may systematically have an edge over other countries.

─ What message would you like to share with members of the international community who provided support?

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for all the help provided immediately after the earthquake. So many chiefs of staff and other military personnel sent us their condolences and provided support. I can’t thank them enough.

The SDF will continue to remain active in various international cooperation activities. In return for the help that was given to us, we will do whatever we can do.

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