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Trying to help victims in Japan

March 18, 2011|By Jeff Tully, jeff.tully@latimes.com

BURBANK — As a U.S. Army combat soldier in Iraq, Ryan Welker has seen the devastation a war can reap on a country.

However, his time in the Middle East couldn't have prepared him for the situation he has encountered the past eight days.

Welker, who grew up in Burbank, is a sergeant stationed at Misawa Air Base in Aomori, Japan. Although his residence is 200 miles north of the epicenter of the massive earthquake that hit near Sendai on March 11, he has witnessed his share of damage, heartache and trauma associated with the tremor and a tsunami that struck the East Coast of the country.

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"The damage here is incredible," Welker said via e-mail earlier this week. "I spent 15 months in Iraq and never saw this much damage."

The sea water from the tsunami got to within 30 feet of Welker's rented home in Misawa. Houses and businesses around the city have been adversity affected by the tragic events.

Welker realizes he can go back to the security of his military base, where he can shelter himself from some of the devastation. However, he said he cannot ignore the suffering many in the country are enduring.

Instead of standing by and not getting involved, Welker has taken it upon himself to try and help.

"One of our closer cities, Hachinohe, was hit by a tsunami, and pretty badly damaged," said Welker, a 2005 Sherman Oaks Notre Dame graduate who played youth and travel soccer in Burbank. "That's where my unit, along with other Navy and Air Force personnel, have started helping."

Welker is asking anyone who has the means, from his hometown to other cities across California and the United States, to donate much-needed items to help aid the stricken people of the area in Japan. He has sent out e-mails pleading for help, and has even given out his personal military mailing address as a way to get the supplies to those who need assistance.

"What I have started asking for is unofficial," he said. "We have many Japanese ground self defense forces (Japanese Army) that are deploying to the most heavily hit places, and taking along all the Americans with special skills. I'm lucky enough to be at a military base which will provide me with what I need. But not everyone has the same access that I have.

"We plan on taking all that we receive and purchase and give it to the people from Sendai who have been evacuated to our base, to those who have been relocated, and to make sure that everyone is taken care of."

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