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JUMP Blog: An SDF spouse shares her perspective on military life

This blog post was written by Eri Ozaki. Ozaki delivered these comments as a speech at “Walk in the U.S., Talk on Japan,” a program on U.S.-Japan relations held in Pensacola featuring a group of delegates from Japan with experiences in civil service, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, and more. The November 30, 2017, event was co-sponsored by JUMP and the Japan-America Society of Northwest Florida.

Hello, my name is Eri Ozaki. I have been married to an Air Self Defense Force officer for 24 years and have been supporting my family ever since. Today, I would like to share my experience as an SDF wife – in America, “military wife.”

My husband, Yoshinori, is a 3rd generation Self-Defense Force member of the family, the second generation F4 Phantom pilot. My mother almost begged me not to marry my husband, because his father had passed away in a training accident when he was 7 years old. I married him anyway and now we have two children.

I originally didn’t know much about the real purpose of the Self-Defense Force. In Japan, you rarely see them walking in their uniforms. When I was growing up in Hokkaido, they were merely a group of men carving snow statues for the annual snow festival, as part of their community service duties. Japan is officially at “peace.” So, when I first met my husband and heard him declare, “I am protecting the skies of Japan,” it was impressive and I will never forget that moment.

In 2000, we moved to Colorado for my husband’s first overseas assignment. Not more than one percent of the Self Defense Force Officers get transferred overseas, and we were the one percent. Long story short, it was a struggle. First with the language. Usually when a U.S. military family transfers to Japan they get to live on the military compound. Inside the compound is “America” – you can use English to communicate and you can even use dollars to make purchases. However, my husband was an exchange officer and thus did not have a Japanese community to fit into. My family and I were completely on our own, and just getting by was a struggle. Another was returning to Japan. Our children had just gotten used to Colorado, and they were completely accustomed to the “American way.” It was during this time I lost my hearing in one of my ears because of the pressure I was under with all the responsibilities and of child rearing.

In 2008, we moved to Washington D.C. My husband was assigned as a Defense Attaché and I was required to socialize with the other attachés spouses. Then, Japan was struck with the Great East-Japan Earthquake. I was devastated. I was absolutely heartbroken knowing all the lives lost in the earthquake and the tsunami. I couldn’t attend any social occasions for at least a month. When I was finally able to pull myself together, I attended this one luncheon with military spouses from around the world. They all came up to me with warm and comforting words. Then, I truly realized that despite the language barriers and cultural differences, they genuinely cared about me and my country, and that we were truly friends.

I am also grateful for the Operation TOMODACHI, the assistance operation by the U.S. military that supported Japan in disaster relief, involving 24,000 U.S. service members, 189 aircraft, and 24 naval ships.

My experience in America really made me realize that despite our different political and cultural backgrounds, or how complicated the relation between each country, we are all the same. My son was also greatly affected by his time in the U.S. Meeting many military families in their uniform made him want to become like his father. Despite wearing different uniforms, they all cooperated with each other, helped each other out. Now my son is serving at the National Defense Academy, a fourth-generation legacy.

I strongly believe that the will to try to understand one another is the key to world peace.

Thank you.

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