More than 100 Air Force service members who have been stationed in Japan had the opportunity to reunite at the United States Air Force Japan Reunion event, hosted at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. on March 10. Distinguished guests shared memories from their time serving in Japan, reunited with their fellow service members in Misawa, Yokota and Kadena, and heard about how the Japan-US Military Program (JUMP) provides opportunities for veterans to continue to stay engaged with the U.S.-Japan alliance.
As part of JUMP’s ongoing initiative to reach out to those who have served in Japan, JUMP intern Jin Lee interviewed Master Sergeant Brendan Vargas, U.S. Air Force, who has been living in Japan for the past 12 years. He is now AFN Station Manager at the Misawa Air Base.
How long have you been a JUMP member?
A little less than a year, I found out about JUMP and inquired about joining right away.
What brought you to Japan and where did you live while you were there?
I am still in Japan. I have been here 12 years over the last 19 as part of the U.S. Air Force. I have lived in Misawa three times and Tokyo once.
How was life in Japan different than your life here in the U.S.?
Very different, but that’s what I like about it and what kept me here. The quality of life is very good in Japan — a lot more structured than the U.S.
Was it difficult to adjust to your new life in a new country? Was there any culture shock?
I would say the first year was the roughest and I thought I would never come back, but the second year was the big shift as my Japanese improved, and I got to see a lot more and make many friends in the community. After that second year, I knew I wanted more time in Japan. Now in Misawa, I am very active in the Freemasons here in Japan and serve as the appointed Grand Lodge Office (Grand Organist), giving me the chance to get even more involved in the local community and meet many Japanese people. (pictured at right).
Describe one of the memorable experiences you had in Japan.
Too many that are really good memories, but one, one would be taking part in the Aomori Nebuta festival wearing a haneto costume with a local group. (pictured above)
What was the first Japanese word you learned?
Ohayo Gozaimasu (Good morning).
Are there any moments you wish you could relive?
Plenty, it’s why I have stayed here so long!
Any special activities or events that brought the two groups closer?
I have played rugby for the Misawa JASDF team for quite a few years during my time here and made many good friends from that experience. (pictured above)
If you could do it again would you do anything differently?
Maybe visit more of the Okinawa islands.
Has your experience shift your view of life in Japan or the Japanese people?
I think I have a very balanced view of Japan and the Japanese people from living here in Misawa. I think people, especially outside of Japan, have a different view of the country than those of us who live here, and especially those of us who live in the inaka (countryside).
Were you able to meet your Japanese counterparts often? What were those experiences like?
Yes I have dealt with the JASDF quite a bit. The experience has been good and it’s always interesting to discuss the differences in our military lifestyles.
Where is your favorite place in Japan?
Morioka, a great prefectural capital that blends nature with the city. It’s a beautiful place and a great city to get away to from Misawa.
Any advice for current soldiers stationed in Japan?
See as much of Japan as you can and find ways to interact with the community — it’s the best way to enjoy and appreciate the country and people.
How do you view the future of the US-Japan relationship?
I think it will evolve as changes to Article IX of the Japanese Constitution are considered. I think we will still have a presence in Japan for many years to come as our alliance has been strong and successful as well as beneficial for the Asia-Pacific region. Regardless of what happens with Article IX, a strong US-Japan relationship is key to stability in the Pacific, as response to things like natural disasters and other contingencies has been successfully dealt with by both countries working together in tandem as part of relief efforts.
Do you have an interesting story to tell about your time serving in Japan? Let us know and you could be the next member featured on JUMP Spotlight Series!
2023 The Japan U.S. Military Program (JUMP)
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