'Everyone is an ambassador': Academy hosts Japanese friendship dinner

The Consulate-General of Japan in Denver's official cook (right) prepares a meal at the Japanese Tomodachi Dinner here Feb. 24, 2015, hosted by the Academy's commandant of Cadets, Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams and his wife, Holly.

The Consulate-General of Japan in Denver's official cook (right) prepares a meal at the Japanese Tomodachi Dinner here Feb. 24, 2015, hosted by the Academy's commandant of Cadets, Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams and his wife, Holly.

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy's commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, and his wife Holly, hosted a Japanese Tomodachi Dinner here Feb. 24 for the Consul General of Japan.

Tomodachi translates to "friendship" and the dinners are traditional events in Japanese culture to promote relations among its citizens and international partners. 

The dinner was inspired by a dinner the Williams attended at the Denver home of Consul General Ikuhiko Ono in 2014, Holly Williams said.

"Our family shares a love for the Japanese and their culture so we thought an event like this dinner would be a wonderful way to share the U.S.-Japanese culture," she said. "We hope this event encourages cadets to look for an assignment to Japan and continue to develop the important relationship we have with Japan."

General Williams said the dinners are enjoyable but have a deeper meaning: to promote international exchange.

"Everyone is an ambassador," he said. "The reason we have international exchange cadets and instructors here is to build relationships with nations we rely on and that rely on us. Our international exchange programs cannot be undervalued as they give cadets a terrific opportunity to establish a close bond with our partner-nations. These programs help them understand how they, as future officers, will be expected to continue to forge that international bond."

Maj. Kazuto Ueda, a Japanese exchange officer and Military and Strategic Studies Department instructor here, said international exchange events can enhance any cadet's worldview.

"Mutual understanding is one of the keys to success in any region," he said. "These events foster that understanding and help cadets understand more about foreign cultures and customs. The Academy's international programs have a nice variety, such as the Foreign Academy Visit Program, the Cultural or Language Immersion Program, the Semester Abroad Program to civilian universities and exchanges to military academies overseas."

Lt. Col. Paul Howe, the Academy's International Programs director, said 240 cadets traveled to foreign countries through these programs during the last academic year and Academy officials anticipate sending even more cadets abroad this academic year.

"Eighty-two international cadets studied here as either four-year international cadets or semester exchange cadets and approximately 200 more visited the Academy for short-term events such as International Week," he said.

General Williams said the dinners and other International Exchange Program events are tactical events with strategic implications for the future. 

"They don't just benefit the cadets, they benefit the Air Force and our nation," he said.

General Williams introduced the dinner by speaking Japanese, a language he learned while assigned to Misawa Air Base, Japan.

"I was totally amazed he did that," Ueda said.

Williams' theme for the event was wherever you are stationed, enjoy the local culture and be a good ambassador for America.