OKINAWA, Japan -- In March 2011, a massive 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed residences and displaced civilians along the coast of Tohoku, Japan. Support came from around the world, to include Okinawa, to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the affected area.
Now, six years later, Sgt. Maj. Mario Marquez, sergeant major of III Marine Expeditionary Force and Lt. Col. Brian Clemens, deputy assistant chief of staff for G-4, Command Element, III MEF revisited the region for the Tour de Tohoku, an annual charity bicycle tour in Ishinomaki City, Japan Sept. 17, 2017. Tour de Tohoku takes place along the coast of mainland Japan and is now held to remember the victims of the disaster and to support continuing recovery efforts.
Clemens rode 210 kilometers, taking on the longest route the tour had to offer. Marquez did not ride his bicycle in the event this year, but rather spent his time volunteering as a safety vehicle driver during the ride and participating in community relation events.
When the earthquake hit, Marquez was serving as the sergeant major of Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and Clemens was the executive officer of Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group. Marquez and Clemens' units were part of Operation Tomodachi, a search and rescue, disaster relief and humanitarian aid effort that took place from March 12 to May 4, 2011.
”When I arrived in Tohoku (in 2011), we immediately flew over the disaster areas and it was then that I realized this event would change my life forever,” Marquez said.
Marquez said he believed that due to the vast devastation in the area, there would be a huge demand for aid, and the Japan Self-Defense Force and American Forces would band together to help provide any assistance they could to the people of Tohoku.
“We immediately formed and conducted operational planning teams to assess our logistics capabilities and formulate courses of action in the event support was requested,” said Clemens. “Like all of my fellow Marines and service members serving in Japan at that time, I was deeply saddened by the effects of the Great East Japan earthquake and the tragic loss of life and human suffering that followed.”
During his time in the Marine Corps, Marquez has assisted with relief efforts after two natural disasters in Japan; the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe in January 1995 and Operation Tomodachi in 2011. Since taking part in these disaster relief efforts, Marquez said he feels a deep connection to the Japanese people and that attending the tour to reach out to victims of the disaster was a valuable and humbling experience.
“I wanted to talk to the people and wish them good luck,” said Marquez. “I wanted to tell them to be strong and remember that the world has never forgotten about them. The American people and friends from the United States military will never forget the teamwork and friendships developed during the great east Japan earthquake and Operation Tomodachi.”
During the tour, Marquez and Clemens visited the previously devastated areas and spoke with Japanese citizens who are still recovering from the natural disaster.
“I have been inspired and humbled by the indomitable spirit, resiliency, and courage of the residents of the Tohoku region,” said Clemens. “Their efforts in the days, weeks, and years that followed the disaster to rebuild their lives and the beautiful landscape throughout the Miyagi prefecture are truly remarkable.”