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14 IS Airmen participate in Operation 2000 Cherry Trees

  • Published
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 14th Intelligence Squadron (14 IS) contributed to Operation 2000 Cherry Trees through collaboration with the unit’s Honorary Commander, Mr. Michael Roediger, the Director and Chief Executive Officer for the Dayton Art Institute (DAI). The 45 men and women of the 14 IS devoted an afternoon on May 4, 2023, in support of the project and the DAI by planting and landscaping trees. 

The goal of Operation 2000 Cherry Trees is to plant two thousand cherry trees in Dayton as a symbol of Japan’s gratitude for the help of their American friends. The project stems from the tragic events on March 11, 2011, when Japan was devastated by the largest recorded earthquake to ever hit the island nation. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami claimed 15,854 lives, left 3,274 missing, and became the most expensive natural disaster in the world.

Mr. Alex Hara, a Japanese-born businessman currently living in Dayton, Ohio, and the founder of the Operation 2000 Cherry Tree project, watched the devastation on television helplessly from thousands of miles away. Saddened by the events, he was inspired by the rapid response of the American military and the willingness of the American people to donate their money, products, and time to a people half a world away. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was the origination point for much of the relief supplies necessary for recovery operations.

At the event, Mr. Hara addressed the 14th IS as he reflected upon on the significance of the cherry trees, the U.S. response to the tsunami, and the strong relationship between the United States and Japan.

“The blossoms of the cherry trees we have been planting in this community are the true representation of the gratitude of the Japanese people for what U.S. citizens and the U.S. military have done as part of Operation TOMODACHI, after the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The tragedy, as it turned out, strengthened the bond between the two nations. The cherry blossoms at the DAI, the landmark of the Dayton community, will remind us of this episode every spring for many years to come.”

Mr. Hara’s heartfelt remarks to the members of the 14th IS conveyed the symbolic meaning of the cherry blossoms. He also stated that the cherry blossoms were a fitting symbolic representation of the Japanese people, as the cherry trees bloom for only a short period of time, and the limited duration of their bloom represents the preciousness and fleeting nature of life. It also gives Japanese and Japanese-American people the opportunity to show their appreciation, while at the same time, reinforcing friendship that will endure for generations.

Speaking on the event Lt. Col. Nicholas Herald, the commander of the 14th IS said, "I know I speak for everyone in the 14th IS that it was a great experience to be part of the 2000 Cherry Tree Project. Mr. Hara started an organization to plant cherry trees to show his and Japan’s appreciation for the U.S. military’s response to the March 2011 tsunami that struck Japan. We are not only proud to wear the same uniform as those who responded, but also honored to be part of this project, which is continuing to remember both the Japanese citizens whose lives were affected by the tragic event, and how the U.S. military answered the call to help one of our strongest allies in the region. This event today is helping to further strengthen that special relationship between our two countries, while simultaneously beautifying the DAI and the downtown Dayton area."

Currently, trees have been planted at the DAI, Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park, the Masonic Temple, and parks and sites throughout the Dayton area. One of the most significant efforts of the project was the addition of 150 cherry trees on the grounds of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Dayton citizens can also see 100 cherry trees adorning Edwin C. Moses Blvd and South Patterson Street.

Mr. Roediger was also very excited about the afternoon’s tree-planting event, as he introduced Mr. Hara to the 14 IS.

“The Dayton Art Institute is honored to have been part of the Cherry Tree Project since its inception and as the honorary member of the 14th IS, it is my pleasure to introduce the squadron to my friend Alex Hara, the founder of the Project.  The 14th IS is now part of the 2000 Cherry Tree Project and DAI histories. The 14th IS's planting of five more cherry trees to our grounds brings our count to 33 trees!  We appreciate their service to the DAI and to our country."

Multiple members of the 14th IS remarked that they were incredibly proud to be a part of Mr. Hara’s and Mr. Roediger’s collaborative efforts; they also commented that they look forward to the blossoming of the beautiful cherry trees all around Dayton and were very excited to have contributed to the project.

The Air Force’s honorary commander program creates opportunities for squadrons to build lasting relationships with the local community and educate community leaders about the missions operating on their Air Force bases, as well as familiarize them with Air Force Reserve Command. Honorary commanders are people with influence from the local community to include non-federal elected or appointed officials, mayors, chamber of commerce affiliated group members, school officials, and others. They are nominated based on their influence and positive impact on the community.

The 14th Intelligence Squadron carries the distinction of being the only acquisition intelligence squadron in Air Force Reserve Command. The men and women of the 14 IS are tasked with ensuring intelligence supportability and providing pervasive Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance expertise in support of materiel lifecycle management to ensure the United States Air Force is ready to fight and win against all potential U.S. adversaries today and into the future.