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374 CES tree engineer at the ‘root’ of Yokota ecosystem Aug. 17, 2023

Are your trees branching out a little too much? Maybe they’re giving too much shade? Is there a wilted tree that has you stumped? The 374th Civil Engineer Squadron has the solution: Masahiko Yokomizo.

            The contracting officer representative nicknamed “Junior” has worked with the 374th CES for 30 years, and during that time he’s made his home in the service contracts section of the squadron as the subject matter expert in trees, keeping the community safe one sprout at a time.

            Junior leads the grounds maintenance contract on Yokota Air Base. While he is often requested for landscaping and gardening maintenance, his main requests concern trees.

            Junior will receive a request, usually from concerned customer, to examine a tree. He then accepts and locates the tree for a site survey. Trees may look fine on the outside, but Junior is trained to look for wounds or deficiencies. He will often examine all sides of a tree for signs of adverse leaning, branching, damage, decay, or infestation.

            “I stand next to the tree and listen for noise,” Junior said. “Sometimes two trees are too close to each other. They squeeze each other and I can listen to the cracking noise. If two branches are too dense and hit each other, they also make noise. One branch may need to be removed otherwise it may cause the weaker branch to fall.”

From there, Junior determines whether the tree is in adequate condition, needs trimming or must be removed or transferred to another location. He makes a recommendation and discusses the best way to take care of the tree with his team.

            “Junior works closely with environmental, entomologists, engineers, maintenance technicians, and leadership to try and make the best decisions for the community, infrastructure, and our natural resources,” said Lt. Col. Michael Pluger, 374th CES commander.

            Reno Cruz-Betancourt, an engineering technician in the requirements and optimizations section of the 374th CES, agrees. He has known Junior since 2015.

“Junior never waits to be told what to do,” he said. “He’s always looking for problems that can be fixed and takes care of each of them. He’s one of the go-to individuals after [natural disasters] to help clean up the base.”

“When we do a damage impact survey after a natural disaster, sometimes no trees will fall over,” Junior said. “That makes me happy because that means the trees (were properly cared for) so they were okay.”

According to Junior, tree removal is a last resort for the unit. It is often recommended if the tree is deemed too dangerous to continue standing, has reached maturity or risks conflicting with another tree’s growth. Lingering fungal infections on trees also stand to pave the way for other healthy trees to be infected. Moreover, dying or termite-infested trees put homes and people at risk if the tree falls on them. In all, Junior takes great pains to make sure each tree is properly considered before it is removed because working with the trees ensures both they and the community stay safe.


            However, Junior aims to plant more trees than he removes. In 2022, the 374th CES planted over 370 trees across the base according to Junior’s seasonal and geographic recommendations.

Junior’s career path didn’t solely come from a love of trees. It mainly derives from a lifelong passion for the outdoors. Junior spent much of his childhood swimming, climbing, driving, fishing and hiking.

“I started to look around and ask, ‘What kind of flower is this?’” Junior recalled. “‘What’s the name of the trees?’ That was the beginning.”

Of course, Junior is particularly dedicated to trees among all of his natural interests. Sometimes, he goes to great lengths to ensure Yokota Air Base receives exquisite trees. In one instance, he traveled over 200 miles to a tree nursery to find the right cherry blossom tree. That may seem like a long journey, but for Junior, trees are a mark of his work that can last a lifetime.

“When I plant a tree, that tree is going to last a long time,” Junior said. “It’s going to be here longer than I am. Even if I leave Yokota, people can still enjoy the cherry blossoms… that cherry tree is a part of their life.”