Helping our families in Japan

Frank Oatley

The entire world was shaken by the earthquake off the coast of Japan on March 11.

In typical American fashion we responded, as a nation, with compassion and humanitarian aid. However, as the situation unfolded, assistance to the stricken country shifted from helping rescue people from the wreckage of the earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis, to aiding the nation with its crippled nuclear power plants.

The United States has deployed highly skilled teams to Japan, along with 17,200 pounds of equipment, to conduct aerial and ground monitoring, provide technical assistance and help Japan track and assess the impact of the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This includes both aerial monitoring systems and consequence management teams from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which have unique skills, expertise, and equipment to help assess, survey, monitor, and sample areas for radiation.

For many serving in the Navy, Japan is not a far off nation but the home of friends or family stationed there. The concern stemming from the failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant was not only for the Japanese people, but shipmates and their families serving abroad.

The U.S. military has authorized voluntary evacuations of eligible family members of Defense Department personnel from bases on Honshu Japan, within a 50 mile radius of the affected reactor. The family members of active duty military stationed on NAF Atsugi and our Navy base in Yokosuka are being allowed to voluntarily evacuate to safe havens. These safe havens are as near as Korea and Okinawa, or as far away as the continental United States.

According to Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan, the potential number of evacuees is in the thousands. The primary means of evacuation will be commercial airlines and chartered flights, but if the demand is heavy, military aircraft will participate.

Additionally, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, manpower and reserve affairs, has directed the immediate stop movement of permanent change of station (PCS) and temporary duty (TDY) Department of the Navy (DON) non-emergency essential civilian personnel to the island of Honshu.

For the most part, families are wrestling with the decision to leave. There is no doubt that their lives have already been severely disrupted, and now the added consideration of extended separation is something that most are not taking lightly. Some are waiting for concrete proof of danger, while others aren’t taking any chances. It is clear the issues affecting our service men and women in Japan will be ongoing and may take months before some semblance of normalcy returns.

If you have friends or family serving in Japan, you can contact the State Department at: 1-888-407-4747 to find more information.

Or you can visit the website of the US Embassy in Tokyo, Japan to view travel advisories or press briefings.

If you wish to help those affected by the tragedy in Japan, you can text your donations to any of the following humanitarian aid programs:

  • Red Cross – Redcross to 90999
  • Convoy of Hope – Tsunami to 50555
  • GlobalGiving – Japan to 50555
  • World Relief Corp. – Wave to 50555
  • Project HOPE – Health to 90999
  • Operation Blessing – Bless to 50555
  • Southeast – VOA to 27722

Frank Oatley is a recently retired public affairs officer with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.