ATSUGI, JAPAN - After the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated much of Japan last month, one of the first rescuers to bring food and supplies to stranded citizens was Petty Officer 3rd Class Caleb Benedict of Middlebury.
Benedict is an Aviation Warfare Specialist serving with the U.S. Navy's SH-60 Helicopter Squadron.
When the earthquake struck Benedict's squadron was in position take to the air and fly supplies from Misawa Air Base, and from ships from the USS Ronald Reagan carrier group, to remote locations that had been totally cut off by the quake.
The mission was detailed in the March 23 issue of Stars and Stripes magazine, which reported that by the end of the flying operations, the Reagan group, of which Benedict was a part, had moved nearly 240,000 pounds of supplies in 10 days, not including material brought directly from Misawa Air Base.
Benedict recounted to the magazine that he had wanted to put his search and rescue skills to work during earlier flights, hoping they could pull the injured from the debris, but it became obvious that would not be possible because of the complete destruction and frigid temperatures.
Benedict said that pushing through the exhausting six-hour missions delivering supplies was worth it.
"It feels really good to be able to help these people," he said. "I know that if there's anything we could possibly do to help them, then we're gonna do it."
Benedict is the son of Randy and Linda Benedict of Bristol and Andrea and Loy Hutchison of Princeton, Kan. He earned his rank through the intensely rigorous SERE (Search, Evade, Rescue, Escape) program, which is similar to the Navy's SEAL program. It is basically prisoner of war training and required of Rescue Swimmers, SEALS, Black Ops and others in military special operations.
According to Benedict's grandmother, Judy Tasetano of Bristol, the program is so rigorous that of the forty men who began the rescue swimmer class with Benedict, only 18 completed the class. Those eighteen went on to San Diego for SAR (Search and Rescue) training and from there, only 10 qualified for SERE training. Only seven of those ten made it to graduation, Benedict among them.
"I am so proud of this young man and all of his team," said Tasetano. "Of course, I am proud of all the military men and women. It's just that this is close to my heart."