Monday, March 21, 2011

Fairfax County Rescue Team Returns Home from Japan Mission


Photo courtesy of Jeanne Theismann/The Connection

News accounts describe the moon that rose Saturday morning and hung brightly in the sky throughout the night and early morning Sunday as a "Supermoon." The last time such a distinctive full moon appeared so close to the earth was in 1993, eighteen years ago.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, with the Supermoon high in the sky, I was pleased to welcome home members of our Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team, VATF-1. After spending a week in Japan, the team was ready to return and their families were happy to see them. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross and I joined family members at the Fire and Rescue Academy on West Ox Road, the headquarters of VATF-1. Among the crowd were lots of little children in pajamas and jackets with their homemade "Welcome Home" signs.

The Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. gave a very moving speech to our team, thanking them for the courageous service to his people. I presented Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki with a Fairfax County lapel pin to signify what will always be a strong connection between Fairfax County and the country of Japan.

Our team completed its mission and returned to Misawa Air Force Base on March 18 to prepare for their return to the U.S. VATF-1 completed its search of central Ofunato on Tuesday, and searched Kamaishi City on Wednesday and Thursday. Tragically, neither VATF-1 nor CATF-1, the Los Angeles based team that joined the Fairfax County team in Japan, found any live victims in either location.

The two teams, the only two in the U.S. qualified for foreign urban search and rescue missions, transferred $145,000 in equipment to the Ofunato Fire Department for use in additional recovery efforts. The equipment includes 4 zodiac boat kits?"containing boats, motors, fuel tanks, and paddles?"16 kerosene heaters, 160 cots, and 160 sleeping bags.

The team will get some much needed time off before returning to regular duty here in Fairfax County. This time off, like all the work, training and equipment, is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

I continue to offer my condolences and sympathy to the people of Japan in the wake of this terrible tragedy. They will continue to face hardships for a long time, and my thoughts and prayers are with them.

In my remarks Sunday morning, I shared with our USAR Team the good wishes and pride that Byline readers have expressed. I am very proud of our team. I also thank their families for their support of this program. I hope that the world does not soon see another tragedy like the one in Japan, but I know that the members of VATF-1 are always ready to serve.

Sharon Bulova

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors


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