By Kaylee LaRocque

NAS Jacksonville Public Affairs Officer

Naval Air Station Jacksonville celebrated 65 years of the U.S.-Japan Alliance by hosting a Japan U.S. Military Program (JUMP) reception at the River Cove Catering and Conference Center, June 13. 

The event, coordinated by the Consulate General of Japan in Miami, reconnected current and former service members, families and federal employees who have served in Japan. JUMP promotes the alliance and friendship that exists between the two nations while advocating peace and security in Asia. 

A presentation by the Taiko drumming ensemble Matsuriza, from Orlando, Florida, kicked off the event, captivating the audience with their synchronized musical performance. 

Special guest Consul General of Japan for Florida Ken Okaniwa welcomed the guests.

"I'm very grateful that you are all here tonight because many of you have been stationed in Japan and we appreciate your friendship," Okaniwa told the guests. "This is the first time this event has been held here at NAS Jacksonville and there are quite a few members stationed here who were stationed in Japan and Japanese residents in the area."

Rear Adm. Sean Buck, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet, also stressed the importance of the JUMP event. 

"We are here tonight to renew, refresh, and nurture a really strong alliance and partnership with the Japanese military," said Buck.  "The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, their Navy, and our Navy probably have the best navy-to-navy relationship of any partner or ally we have.  We are gathered here to remind ourselves about how important our alliance and friendship is, especially during these uncertain and turbulent times.  And, in my heart, to teach our young officers and Sailors about our alliance and how important it is so that they can carry the torch and work to build upon the strong relationship for years to come."

Following dinner, Patrol Squadron 5 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Will Toraason and USS Lassen (DDG-82) Commanding Officer Cmdr. Thomas Cherkouras both discussed some of their fond memories of living in Japan. 

Toraason explained how he first experienced the culture during a student exchange program while a midshipman. 

"Every day was amazing to me - it was so bright and new - the people, music, food," he said. 

After joining the Navy, he again visited Japan while stationed on a submarine. 

"I loved the culture and knew I wanted to go back," he said. "Luckily, I next received orders to Kami Seya, in the Tokyo suburb of Yamato, and enjoyed seeing more of the country. The U.S. is a young country and we're brash and forceful. Japan is older than the Roman Empire and is very patient. 

"But we are fast friends. I think that maybe we see something that we respect - something that our culture doesn't always have. The world is changing very rapidly but the U.S. and Japan complement each other: as long as the U.S. and Japan are close, together we can do anything," said Toraason.

 "It's a great to honor to speak about our two nations who continue to work closely together to preserve the freedom of navigation throughout the world," said Cherkouras, who has visited numerous regions of Japan and participated in many naval exercises with the Japanese navy.  "We will continue to work together as allies to maintain peace in the international waters of the Asian Pacific." 

Buck also shared some of his experiences while being deployed and stationed there several time throughout his career including when an earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of the country in 2011. 

"I have never seen such an honorable, more organized, disciplined approach from the Japanese people to come together and take care of one another and rebuild their great nation that was so decimated after a natural disaster," he said. "Operation Tomodachi means friend in Japanese. I come here tonight as your friend."

Okaniwa also addressed the same topic. "The Japanese people are so grateful to the government and people who supported Japan in the great East Japan earthquake," said Okaniwa. "While it was a horrible experience, the tremendous outpouring of goodwill bought our people even closer together. In the immediate aftermath, the U.S. Armed Forces played a key role in providing support in the affected areas despite the danger of radiation. Their heroic actions will always be remembered by the Japanese people." 

The counsel general also stressed that Japan is continuing efforts to actively pursue peace and stability in the Asian Pacific area. "We hope to continue this important alliance for the sovereignty of the region."

The night concluded as Okaniwa, Buck and Cherkouras participated in a Taiko drum lesson with Matsuriza members. 

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Today, nearly 55,000 U.S. service members are stationed at bases in Japan along with family members. JUMP, which was initiated in 2015, is a collaborative effort between Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. and the National Association of Japan-America Societies.