My Earthquake Story (Or: Afghanistan on Hold)

The 2011 Japan earthquake/tsunami is one of those “Where-were-you?”-type incidents. It’ll always be in my hip pocket as a quick short-story to use during random conversation or small talk at parties. We’ve all got “Where-were-you?” stories …

I’ll remember where I was September 11, 2001.

I’ll remember where we were when our son was born.

I’ll remember where I was when President Obama was elected, and I’ll remember where I was when the “big one” hit Japan.

What’s that? You’re confused? Afghanistan? Oh, yeah . Uh, about that … Read on.

When we last left our hero, (hey, write your own blog and you can call yourself whatever you want) he was heading to Fort Dix for Combat Skills training, in preparation for another tour in Afghanistan. (I was notified of orders to return less than a year from returning from my last year-long trip.)

On March 11, I kissed my family goodbye at the Misawa Airport and boarded a flight for Tokyo. I arrived at Tokyo and had to catch a shuttle bus to catch my connecting flight to the United States.

The bus arrived at my terminal, and I felt it shaking. At first, I thought it was just the bus’s hydraulics system. (Some busses can raise or lower the frame to make it easier to accept disabled passengers.)

I remember thinking to myself: “Man, this bus has a really crappy hydraulics system.”

Then, I saw massive people running out of the airport, screaming. That’s when I realized we were experiencing an earthquake. I held on tight as the bus rocked violently back-n-forth.

Once the shaking stopped, I tried to go back inside to catch my flight … and THAT’S when I realized that the earthquake I experienced was a lot more serious than I thought.

With all flights cancelled, I called back to Misawa, to see if I could return to Misawa to help out. But, orders are orders … The war doesn’t stop because of an earthquake. I had to wait it out at the Tokyo airport until I could report to Fort Dix for training.

Travelers were stuck outside for hours. Those hours turned into the whole night, and into the next day. I slept on the floor in the airport, begging a new-found friend to occasionally use his cell phone so I could try to reach Muna & Taj. (It was a relief to know they were okay.)

Two nights later, I was finally able to make it on a flight to New Jersey. I began combat training at Fort Dix while I wondered about Muna and Taj surviving in Japan without me.

In between training, I watched the news. Misawa was busy shuffling cargo in and out; searching for bodies, dealing with the public … It was a Public Affairs crisis, and I wasn’t there for it.

But, while I was in training, I received a phone call from a General I had never met or talked with before. 10 days after leaving Japan, I received orders to return to Misawa to help out with the earthquake relief efforts.

My deployment to Afghanistan will have to wait. (And, so will this blog.)

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