Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Roos Acted Quickly for Operation Tomodachi

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Roos Acted Quickly for Operation Tomodachi

Article excerpt

I was sitting in my office with my senior staff in the U.S. Embassy, 9th floor, when the earthquake hit. Born and raised in San Francisco, I had already experienced many earthquakes during my life, I thought I was very used to it, but nothing was like the earthquake that hit on March 11. We evacuated to the embassy parking lot.

The first thing I did was contact Washington; the President (Barack Obama) was informed in the middle of the night, and Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton as well. They both said "Do everything we need to do to help the Japanese people in their time of crisis."

At that time in the parking lot, about 20 to 30 minutes later, I saw footage of the tsunami hitting the Northeastern part of Japan. Those pictures remain in my mind to this very day. Then one of my staff members informed me of the nuclear situation developing in Fukushima.

During the initial days after, what was going through my mind was where we could best help the Japanese people and government. One of the first calls I made was to the Commander of U.S. Forces Japan. It was a quick action. We triggered Operation Tomodachi, which was the military part of the operation that eventually led to about 24,000 military personnel in search and rescue, and helping in the nuclear crisis all over.

As a U.S. Ambassador, my first duty is the health and safety of the American people: There are 150,000 Americans plus 50,000 military personnel in Japan. But at the same time, Japan is our closest friend and ally and a country with whom we have deep bonds. First and foremost in my head was, how do we confront this multi-pronged crisis? My highest and best use was mobilizing resources, not only for the tsunami but for the nuclear crisis.

I think one of the most important things as a leader, is showing empathy, being there for people. Obviously, there's a practical part of it: I am a lawyer and my background in law was analyzing problems. To give you an example, no one really knew what was happening with the nuclear situation. Every morning and late in the day I'd have meetings with the experts and my background helped me. When they had different views and recommendations, to sift through and try to analyze the problem and come up with solutions and actions. You just hope you're making the right decisions. The most important thing was to listen, and decide what to act upon.

I was proud that the U.S. stepped up. In the end, we played a small role in helping the Japanese people. I hope I made a small contribution.

After a while, I went up to the disaster area. I took a tour of the coastline. I had never seen anything like it in my life.

Then I went to an Ishinomaki evacuation center, an elementary school. That was one of the most difficult, emotional but inspiring things that I've ever done in my life. I remember walking into the evacuation center, and one of my distinct memories was of a young boy who came up and hugged me, like I was the one that needed to be comforted. We hugged each other.

People were not so emotional, more peaceful. I remember speaking to the residents there, trying to come up with the right words. The words that came to me were along the lines of, "Nature can destroy property and can take away human life, but it cannot destroy the human spirit". And I saw the best of the human spirit there that day.

It was a very difficult time, and just to see the strength of the people, and how they reacted. From that one kid who put his arm around me, to the fact that there was no looting! It only enhanced my perception of the country.

(Q: Do you think nuclear energy is critical to Japan's survival? How do you evaluate the effort to revive nuclear power plants?) It's complex. I do recognize the importance of nuclear power. Japan was heavily reliant on nuclear power. We're all focused on global warming, and nuclear power has been a "safe," clean form of energy. Countries need energy for growth. …

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