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USAF volunteer efforts uplift Kanoya community

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Spencer Tobler
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Members of the 319th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron and 374th Airlift Wing, deployed to Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kanoya Air Base, have now dedicated hundreds of hours volunteering to serve the local area since arriving in October 2022, in addition to their primary mission of supporting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the U.S. and Japan.

The presence of the U.S. military in Kanoya was met with hesitation upon the arrival of the 319th ERS, however the interpersonal connections the deployed members have curated throughout the community have gained an overwhelming amount of support.

“I am very thankful for the Airmen’s support in showing our host nation counterparts how much we care about where they live and work,” said Master Sgt. Steven Peterson, 319th ERS first sergeant. “The men and women supporting this mission have seized all of the opportunities that have been presented to help the local community, no matter how big or small.”

The squadron has prioritized their relationship with the local population in order to have a meaningful impact on the community. Since arriving, they have organized donations for the Kanoya Welfare Association, hosted weekly English classes for children with disabilities, and orchestrated monthly beach clean-ups to preserve the beauty of the area. 

“I believe creating a positive impact on the surrounding area is the best way to combat any preconceived notions that local nationals may have about us,” said Senior Airman Gabriel Rothbart, 319th ERS vehicle maintenance refueling journeyman. “In this way, we leave a lasting impression of the positivity Americans can bring while being in another country.”

319th ERS Airmen also frequently collaborate with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force stationed at Kanoya Air Base. Together, the partners complete base clean-ups, spend time at local orphanages, and have even hosted an Air Memorial event together, which amassed a crowd of over 18,000 people.

“Our JMSDF counterparts opened the door for us to support the community,” said Peterson. “We have been welcomed with open arms and I hope our community involvement shows that we care and are willing to sacrifice time to make an impact.”

The Airmen’s community service efforts have helped construct an environment of mutual understanding between the Kanoya community, JMSDF and the U.S. military.

“We are a very small group of foreigners in Kanoya, I feel that by volunteering we create an environment where locals can interact with us while doing something we both enjoy,” said Peterson. “The positive impact they have on the community has led to less misunderstandings around town and greater trust that we can be good guests while we are here.”