Shimizu (far right) was stationed at Forward Operating Base Shank in Logar, Afghanistan, for the duration of his assignment. Photo: courtesy of Craig Shimizu
By JACL National Staff
Washington, D.C. — JACL Daniel K. Inouye Fellow Craig Shimizu formally donated the uniform he wore while deployed to Afghanistan to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on July 30. The uniform will become part of a collection of uniforms and represents Asian Americans and Japanese Americans who served in the Afghanistan conflict. Shimizu served as a cavalry platoon leader and staff officer in the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Squadron of the 3rd Infantry Division from 2011-14 and served in Afghanistan for nine months in 2013.
“It’s a huge honor, but I’m also a little uncomfortable with it since I think there are so many others who are much more deserving,” said Shimizu. “There are so many people who gave much more than I did, had longer and more distinguished careers and were just far better soldiers than I was — I’d be way more excited to see their items in the Smithsonian than my own.”
Shimizu was first approached about possibly donating his uniform while he was in attendance at a meeting with the museum in May. Shimizu accompanied JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida to the Smithsonian, where an agreement was signed with John Gray, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, for JACL to collaborate with the museum on a 2017 exhibition commemorating the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.
Ouchida mentioned that Shimizu was an Afghanistan veteran, and Jennifer Jones, chair of the Smithsonian’s Armed Forces History Division, who also was present at the meeting, asked Shimizu if he would like to donate his uniform.
Jones accepted the donation on behalf of the museum.
“When we collect uniforms and equipment from individuals such as Craig, it helps us to tell a more inclusive story about those individuals who serve in the military,” said Jones. “Craig served in Afghanistan, and his uniform and story about why he chose to enter into military service tell a story that is familiar to many American families and helps us understand a long history of military service from the Japanese American community. It helps us show the diversity of our armed forces in the 21st century.”
In addition to the uniform, Shimizu donated a hand-mic communicator that was damaged in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on July 7, 2013. The hand-mic was clipped to his body armor when an IED exploded in the middle of his patrol formation; it was destroyed by shrapnel from the bomb. The IED detonated about 22 yards from Shimizu.
“The hand-mic is bittersweet — it’s a great souvenir and an exciting story to tell, but it’s also a reminder of a day when three of my guys were wounded,” Shimizu recalled. “It’s hard to shake the feeling that as the platoon leader, I could’ve done something different or been better at my job and avoided putting us in that situation altogether. I’ve never really spent a lot of time dwelling on the hand-mic itself — in Afghanistan, I put it out of my mind since I didn’t think it was productive to think about such a close call when we still had a lot of patrols to go on. Once I was back at home and out of the Army, it just went into the closet with the rest of my Army stuff, so it wasn’t too hard to give it up.”
Shimizu was stationed at Forward Operating Base Shank in Logar, Afghanistan, for the duration of his assignment (Logar is located just south of the capitol in Kabul). His unit was the battlespace owner for Logar.
Insurgents in the area launched more than 200 107mm rockets at the base during his stay, and it was his troop’s overall mission to patrol the area in the vicinity of the base to prevent and reduce the number of rocket attacks.
Insurgents used AK47s, PKM machine guns and RPGs to ambush the patrol, in addition to burying IEDs on frequently traveled paths and in blind spots. Shimizu experienced about 10 ambushes/firefights and three IED attacks while on foot patrols.
All of the soldiers from Shimizu’s platoon survived the deployment, but three soldiers from his squadron, SPC Nicholas Burley, SPC James Wickliff and SFC Forrest Robertson, were killed in action or died due to injuries suffered in the field.
Now back from his deployment in Afghanistan and working in Washington, D.C., with the JACL, Shimizu reflected on the fact that his uniform will forever be linked to the Smithsonian.
“It’s hard to put into a wider perspective or think about my items as being representative of any specific population or of the conflict as a whole,” said Shimizu. “On one hand, I feel completely unworthy of this opportunity given that there are so many others who are much more deserving. On the other hand, I feel lucky and honored to be in a position to highlight the service and sacrifices of this generation of veterans.”
Shimizu has served JACL as the Daniel K. Inouye Fellow since November 2014 and will be transitioning to a Mike M. Masaoka Fellowship in January 2016.
— Additional reporting by P.C. Staff