Adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun
Local man part of defense against North Korea's military
Andre Sanders, Special to the Enquirer
In a land rich with the history of the shogun, samurai and ninja, the son of a Hartselle couple finds himself in the middle of a complex standoff. But this American warrior is bringing much more than just a sword to deter North Korean aggression and keep an eye on China-Taiwan tensions.
Air Force Senior Airman Jason Saunders, son of Robert and Jesse Saunders of Hartselle, is a tactical aircraft maintenance specialist with the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota. The base serves as the primary U.S. military port in Japan, and also as a counter to North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear weapons program.
As the only airlift win in the Far East, it takes unique airmen like Saunders to work under such special circumstances and accomplish a mission deemed crucial to U.S. security.
"I work in the transient alert flight where I'm responsible for ensuring that all the aircraft that visit Yokota have everything they need to fly their next mission," Saunders said. "I get fuel for the aircraft and make any needed repairs or servicing they need to get on with their assigned flight."
Yokota, located 28 miles from Tokyo, lies hidden in rows of towering mountains and epic landscapes. Once a test group for the newest in aircraft technology for Japan's 1940s-era war machine, the base now serves as a center for promoting stability in the Far East and is home to American C-130E Hercules cargo aircraft, UH-1N Huey helicopters and C-21A Learjets.
And it also airmen like Saunders access to a cultural experience like no other.
"I'm having lots of fun in Japan," he said. "I attend a lot of cultural festivals and take trips that allow me to explore and experience the Japanese culture. The language barrier can be tough at times, but the Japanese people are nice and helpful, so I get by OK."
Saunders' time in Japan has been memorable. And even though he's 9,000 miles from home and inundated with various responsibilities, there's still time to think about life in the United States and his future.
"I'm having a great time in Japan and in the Air Force," he said. "The Air Force offers me many great opportunities for travel and education and I plan on making a long career out of serving my country."
While living in the Land of the Rising Sun presents Saunders a chance to experience the new sights, sounds, tastes and traditions of a unique culture, the airman's mission remains as advertised – defending America, its interests and its allies wherever the Air Force sends him.