TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – All the bells and whistles of the U.S. west coast mobility mission were on full display during a visit from Japanese Maj. Gen. Shinya Bekku, Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Surgeon General, Dec. 9, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California.
The visit, which coincided with a visit from U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Marks, Air Mobility Command Surgeon and Chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps, put an emphasis on the inner workings of Travis’ 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
The 349th AES specializes in airlift evacuation of sick and injured medical patients from specifically austere environments, translating Travis’ vision of being “America’s finest mobility force” from a generally understood perspective of transporting “boots and bullets” to one of transporting “bandages and hope.”
For 349th AES Airmen, it’s a distinction that lies less in the capabilities of Travis’ mobility platforms like the C-17 Globemaster III and the C-5M Super Galaxy and more in the flexibility and ingenuity of AES Airmen.
“When any of my people deploy, I give them a Gumby figure to remind them to be flexible and creative in making sure their patients receive the best care possible and aren’t further injured during transport,” said Col. Jeanne LaFountain, former 349th AES commander.
Bekku’s realm of care, not dissimilar to the United States’, encompasses not just his nation’s immediate population, but those members of the Japanese Forces deployed to areas around the world.
Since 1992, Japan has continually deployed forces around the globe in support of United Nations interests, according to ForeignPolicy.com.
Bekku said Japan’s continued involvement in U.N. prerogatives requires a heightened need for not only international cooperation, but also an innovative mindset—something Travis, with its Phoenix Spark innovation think tank, is uniquely positioned to inspire.
“Sharing knowledge and experiences with one another is very important for building relationships and developing an innovative mindset,” Bekku said. “Innovation is very important throughout all areas of military operations, including training. It’s a mechanism for us to change our thinking in order to solve regional challenges.”
Marks, likewise, echoed the importance of joint-nation collaboration in both engaging international conflicts and ensuring best practices are followed in the carrying out of humanitarian and combat missions alike.
“It’s about pulling the best from both forces,” Marks said. “It’s in that way, we can make the whole system better. There are certainly aspects of both our nations’ initiatives that can be learned from, and perhaps expanded upon, by the other. From a medical viewpoint, there’s always the question of ‘how do we fly together better, how do we take care of each other’s patients better?’ Visits like the one today opens those avenues for becoming a more effective transnational alliance.”
Bekku finished his visit with gratitude toward his hosts as well as a sentiment underscoring the importance of such visits and the need to reinforce the alliance stoked and nurtured by the base tour:
“We are stronger together,” he said.