By Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Daniel Sanford, U.S. Naval Air Facility Misawa, Japan Public Affairs
ONAGAWA, Japan — Sailors and civilians aboard USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) departed Onagawa after spending days in the tsunami-stricken Japanese city, Nov. 24.
In response to an invitation from city officials, Safeguard became the first U.S. ship to visit this area since the conclusion of Operation Tomodachi. While inport, the ship welcomed almost 400 local school children aboard for tours, and also delivered donated clothing and blankets to a local school.
The crew, comprised of Military Sealift Command personnel and U.S. Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, Company 1-7, said they were honored by the invitation and enjoyed interacting with the local populace.
“What got me were the smiles on the children’s faces,” said Frank Watkins, an able-bodied seaman aboard Safeguard. “Seeing them so excited about the ship makes you feel good inside. They’ve been through a lot this past year. I hope they enjoyed the visit.”
Onagawa was greatly impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake, March 11, 2011, which triggered a massive tsunami that devastated the local area. More than nine months after the incident, the city is still struggling to recover. Because of that, the crew wanted the children’s visit to be special.
While on board, the kids had the opportunity to see diving and shipboard firefighting displays, take a tour through the Safeguard-class salvage ship, and enjoy a barbecue on the pier.
“It’s rewarding to see the kids have a good time, and I think our Sailors did a fantastic job in making that happen,” said Senior Chief Navy Diver John Stegall, MDSU 1, Company 1-7 master diver. “All my guys were very caring, very motivated and I was proud to be their master diver today.”
Safeguard previously spent time in Hachinohe, Japan, earlier this year, and in the days immediately following the tsunami, helped clear its harbor for ship travel.
Warrant Officer Davin Strang, MDSU 1, Company 1-7 officer in charge, said Safeguard and its crew are always willing to help out if needed.
“I hope the Japanese population understands that they can count on us if they need us,” he said. “After all, helping out is what friends do.”