“Ronald Reagan has been embraced as America’s Flagship. Not only does she have strong ties to Americans, she also has ties to the people of Japan,” said Rear Adm. John Alexander, commander, Battle Force 7th Fleet. “In 2011 Ronald Reagan was one of the first responders to assist in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the east coast of Japan during Operation Tomodachi. The ties that were established with the ship and our host nation will continue to grow.”

USS Ronald Reagan

Sailors spell out “hajimemashite” (nice to meet you) on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan as the ship arrives at Yokosuka. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke)

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) arrived in Japan on October, 1, 2015, to replace the USS George Washington as the flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five, the only forward-based carrier strike group home-ported at Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the U.S. 7th Fleet. The USS Ronald Reagan is a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier in the service of the United States Navy.

Christened in 2001, the USS Ronald Reagan is 333 meters long and stands 20 stories above the waterline, carrying 60 combat aircraft and a crew of approximately 4,400. The vessel is like a self-contained city, replete with its own hospital, grocery stores, gyms, television studio, chapel, barber shop, and more. The ship’s two nuclear reactors provide propulsion on demand to steam the ship in excess of 56 km per hour, while also creating enough energy to supply a small city and producing all the fresh water required by the crew.

USS Ronald Reagan

The USS Ronald Reagan arrives at Yokosuka. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin V. Cunningham)

“We are sending our most modern West Coast-based aircraft carrier to support the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and our allies,” said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces.The U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrives at Fleet Activities Yokosuka. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin V. Cunningham)

The USS Ronald Reagan has provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the region on a number of occasions. After the devastating Typhoon Fengshen hit the Philippines in 2008, the Reagan delivered essential supplies to the victims there. The carrier also assisted salvage operations for the ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars, which was carrying 864 passengers and crew when it capsized off Sibuyan Island, 300 kilometers south of Manila, at the height of the typhoon.

When the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region on Japan on March 11, 2011, the USS Ronald Reagan was already deployed in the Korean Peninsula region on a training mission. The ship was redirected toward Japan and stationed off Sendai to serve as a refueling station for Japanese coast guard and military helicopters on relief missions in the area. U.S. Navy helicopters also flew relief missions from the carrier. At the peak of Operation Tomodachi, approximately 24,000 U.S. military personnel, 189 aircraft, and 24 Navy vessels were involved in the humanitarian assistance and relief efforts.

“We saw merchant ships that were a good ½ mile to ¾ mile inland. We saw passenger ferries on top of buildings. Towns were completely wiped out,” said Kenny Sevenello, now an ensign aboard the USS Ronald Reagan who was stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in 2011. He still wears the Operation Tomodachi Patch on his right arm. “I wear the patch because in my 15 years in the Navy, I’ve been on a lot of different missions to a lot of different places,” said Sevenello. “Operation Tomodachi was one, if not the top one, that sticks out in my head because we played such a big role and Japan was my home at the time.”

“We could see floating houses, shipping containers, everything floating in the water. It just looked like a new piece of land, but it was all debris,” said Lt. Albert. J Drones when speaking about his experiences during Operation Tomodachi onboard the USS Ronald Reagan. “Search and rescue is definitely the most rewarding mission that I do. We do a lot of combat missions, but whenever you can go out and try to help somebody it’s a lot more rewarding.”

The sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan even held a donation drive to collect personally-donated items to be sent to displaced families following the disaster. “I dug through all my clothes and blankets and donated as much as I possibly could,” said Yeoman 3rd Class Adrina Vasquez. “We gave clothes, shoes, blankets, food, water, etc. I’m so very honored to have been part of this amazing team on the USS Ronald Reagan. I can say with pride that we, the crew of USS Ronald Reagan, gave everything we had to support the people of Japan.”

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Many Japanese residents have expressed deep appreciation for the U.S. military’s disaster relief efforts after March 11. “They came to Oshima Island in Miyagi Prefecture by hovercraft and listened carefully to the residents’ opinions,” said a resident of Miyagi Prefecture in a Facebook comment. “I remember how kind they were. They kept looking back and checking with the residents as they carefully cleared away the homes that had been reduced to rubble. Some Japanese girls were crying when it was time for them to leave.”  Another Japanese Facebook user said, “The appearance of the USS Ronald Reagan after the earthquake gave us so much encouragement and confidence. Welcome back to Japan.”

Several Japanese and U.S. Navy distinguished visitors visited the USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego for an all-hands call and ship tour in August 2015. Among the visitors was Deputy Chief of Mission Hiroyasu Izumi of the Embassy of Japan in the United States. “Today, a United States aircraft carrier in Japanese waters is a symbol of peace and friendship,” said Izumi. “Reagan aided Japan during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. That is what the USS Ronald Reagan represents to Japan and to the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

USS Ronald Reagan

Capt. Christopher Bolt, commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan; Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force; the Honorable Wataru Takeshita, the minister for reconstruction of Japan; Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander, 7th Fleet; U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy; and Rear Adm. John Alexander, commander, Battle Force 7th Fleet participate in a cake cutting ceremony during a reception after the arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan to Yokosuka. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan N. McFarlane)