In the dark of night on March 14, 2011—three days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake devastated northeastern Japan—Senior Airman Veronica Cox hoisted down 40 feet from a hovering helicopter onto the roof of a senior-care facility in Sanriku-cho and announced in Japanese, “We are U.S. Air Force personnel. We’re here to help.”
As an intelligence analyst who was fluent in Japanese, Airman Cox had volunteered for humanitarian assistance duty and flew on a HH-60G Pavehawk Helicopter with the squadron’s advance command element to the isolated town. During the mission, Airman Cox spotted an emergency message crafted out of piled rocks. Able to discern the Japanese characters, she recommended that the helicopter circle for a closer look, leading to the discovery of 200 isolated Japanese civilians who were sheltered among the rubble. As the only one of her fellow crew members able to communicate in Japanese, she was able to meet with the town elder, and relay precise medical and survival requirements to Japanese disaster response teams.
Airman Cox’s translation assistance during the first 24 hours of around-the-clock rescue operations greatly assisted the integrated Japanese-U.S. disaster response. Over the next six days, Airman Cox flew with nine search and rescue missions, directly enabling the delivery of 3,000 pounds of food, water, clothing, and medical supplies along 120 miles of devastated coastline. The Emperor of Japan lauded Airman Cox and the aircrew for their service during Japan’s time of crisis. For her exemplary performance, she received the Air Force Commendation Medal and was personally selected as a linguist for the 5th Air Force vice commander during Ministry of Defenselevel meetings between U.S. and Japanese senior leaders. She also received recognition and awards from Japan Self-Defense Forces, as well as civilian organizations, including the Japan- American Air Force Goodwill Association.