Operation Appreciation 2017

Operation Appreciation (Day 5): BIGFOOT® Pilot Dan Runte Shares Experience as Tour Takes Him to New Heights

MCAS IWAKUNI, Japan – With just two days left to experience the 2017 Operation Appreciation tour, the group of Motorsports champions was eager to get to MCAS Iwakuni so that they could tour the facility and meet as many members of our Armed Forces as possible.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is located in the Nishiki River delta and mainly houses the U.S. Marine Corps but is also home base for some members of the Navy, Air Force, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Summit Racing BIGFOOT® 4×4 Monster Truck driver Dan Runte walked us through the day’s festivities.

“Today we started at the air traffic control tower, and that was something I’d never experienced before. There is so much more to it than just planes going in and planes going out – they don’t just control the air strip; those guys up there control the whole air field. The tower at Iwakuni is the tallest that the military has in Japan, and it’s 214 feet tall. That was neat, and then they let us go out on the catwalk just below the main tower and take some pictures and watch planes take off and come in. One of the planes that was taking off was a Japanese sea plane that they go do rescue with, and that was something to see.

The whole day was a new experience for all of us, and I have to thank those guys up in the tower for letting us come up and see how they do things. There is a lot that goes into controlling the air space, and there is only one runway here, so I can’t imagine what it would be like with five or six. It really makes you think about the responsibility they have and how important it is to get it right.

After we left the air traffic control tower, we stopped at the single marine lounge. That’s a place where unaccompanied military members can go to hang out, socialize, and spend some time when they aren’t on duty. This base here has a lot of families, so the lounge wasn’t as popular as it might be at other bases, but there were some guys in there that we had the opportunity to shake hands with and thank for their service. As always everyone was really nice, and it was good to see that even if you don’t have your family at these bases over here, you still have things in common with other guys or girls stationed here.

Next we went to the fire department on base and they took us for a ride onto the flightline in a state-of-the-art Japanese fire truck. They let Eddie [Krawiec] spray the water, and it was pretty incredible to learn about this thing – the main line coming out of the front on full throttle with full water pressure goes through 500 gallons a minute. If there is an issue, they can seriously pump some water. It only carries 10,000 liters of water, though, and you could empty the tank pretty quickly at that rate, so they did let us know that they connect to water as soon as possible when they go out.

I thought that truck was pretty cool. Being a Monster Truck guy, that was pretty neat for me because the tires are huge and it’s six-wheel drive and heavy. It was modern, all-digital inside, and had some really neat manned outside water features: pumps, hoses, connections, the number of hoses they could connect to it, and the velocity of water it could pump was awesome.

The highlight of the day had to be the tree lighting ceremony that evening. It was another thing we’d never done before, and there were lots of kids there. Monster Trucks and kids just go together, and I’ve said it for years: if it wasn’t for kids, I probably wouldn’t have had a job for this long. I go back to that phrase all the time because it’s really true. Some of us are just bigger kids than others, and we’re into third generation BIGFOOT fans now, which is incredible. The troops came out with their families for this, and that sure made it a special evening. It was a really good time, and Santa Claus finally made it so they could light the tree, so that was a real neat deal.

We’ve been in some pretty remote locations and some different situations for Operation Appreciation, but these bases are pretty modern. It’s a whole different story here, but we still feel really welcomed by everyone, and I have to thank the men and women on duty here for being so nice to us and sharing their stories. It’s an honor to be here, and I have to thank Summit Racing and Armed Forces Entertainment, too, because those are the guys who make it happen. Seeing these folks with their families just makes us appreciate our own families who are waiting for us back home. I look forward to this trip every year, and this time around was just as special as the first time.”

Dan Runte, Larry Swim, Greg Anderson and Jason Line take a look at the surroundings from 214 feet above in the air traffic control tower.

The air traffic control tower gave Team Summit a whole different perspective of MCAS Iwakuni.


The group received a briefing on the expeditionary arresting gear and the mighty cable used for rapid deceleration of fighter aircraft in an emergency situation.


The Marines show off some of their hardware.

With the troops at the Marine Wing Support Squadron.


The Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting wing gave the group the opportunity to learn first-hand about the capabilities of the on-installation fire department.


The team gets a tour of the on-installation fire department.


Now, that’s a fire truck.


Dan Runte will always feel more at home around lifted vehicles, and he was in his comfort zone when he spied this lifted van on base.


The base exchange, known as the MCX, provided a brief stop for the team as they met with holiday shoppers.


Team Summit had the honor of attending the Tree Lighting Festival at MCAS Iwakuni. The huge turnout brought families out to see Santa, hear holiday music, and meet the Operation Appreciation drivers.

On the final day of the trip, the Operation Appreciation team takes one last group photo.
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