Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

March 24, 2011 at 6:26am

UPDATE: Mobility Airmen among 'joint team' helping returning families with Operation Pacific Passage

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Whether it's at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, these are just some of the areas where mobility Airmen and other people from Air Mobility Command bases are stepping up to help people returning from Japan.

Shortly after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan on March 11, Department of Defense officials approved voluntary departures for DOD personnel and family members to return to the United States. U.S. Northern Command is leading the departure operation -- naming it "Operation Pacific Passage."

According to USNORTHCOM Public Affairs, Travis AFB, Seattle-Tacoma IAP and Denver International Airport, Colo., are the main arrival locations. 

"The arriving families, including their pets, are being met by military representatives from U.S. Army North, who help them with follow-on arrangements such as temporary lodging, food and other support requirements," a NORTHCOM press release states. "Air Forces Northern's national security emergency preparedness directorate has deployed two emergency preparedness liaison officers to the Seattle-Tacoma airport and is ready to support with others if needed, officials said. Joint reception coordination centers have been set up at both locations."

It's at those joint reception centers where mobility Airmen and others have provided, and continue to provide, even more assistance. For example, on March 19, Airmen and other personnel from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., helped welcome home the first group of people. 

Following a 10-hour flight, 233 Department of Defense personnel and family members were welcomed by a host of people. According to a report by 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs, the returning people were met by members of the 62nd AW, "the 627th Air Base Group, Joint-Base Lewis-McChord, the USO and Naval Base Kitsap, who helped them with their luggage and escorted them to the Joint Reception Coordination Center." 

According to U.S. Transportation Command Public Affairs, at Scott AFB, Ill., the civilian aircraft used to bring the returning families home are chartered by USTRANSCOM personnel, and they are part of a "total team" dedicated to this operation.

"The teamwork to bring families in from Japan has been phenomenal," said Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, deputy commander, U.S. Transportation Command. "From civilian airlines and charters, U.S. Pacific and Northern Commands, the USO as well as community support groups and volunteers, the support for our military family members coming home from Japan is unsurpassed. The families are receiving tremendous service at their points of departure in Japan, and their reception at Seattle-Tacoma International, Travis Air Force Base and Denver International as well as superb support helping them schedule movement to their desired destinations in the United States."

Just like at Seattle-Tacoma IAP, the effort to meet, greet and take care of people returning at Travis AFB, Calif., is also a joint effort. The Joint Reception Coordination Center there welcomed their first batch of more than 500 returnees on March 22. A U.S. Army officer who helped set up the reception area at Travis AFB gave high praise to the people of the Air Mobility Command base in a 60th Air Mobility Wing report.

"Hats off to all the joint efforts of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines," said Lt. Col. U. L. Armstrong, acting defense coordinating officer, Region 9, Oakland, and lead officer for U.S Army North's efforts at Travis AFB. "The wing commander here, Col. James Vechery, and his team provided a good detailed plan as we arrived, enabling us to set up quickly and prepare to assist the families," said Colonel Armstrong.

In a Navy News Service report, a Navy family member who arrived at Travis AFB from Japan was happy with the welcome and support she and her 3-year-old daughter received after their flight.

"Everyone has been real friendly getting us through this situation," said Angelica Hogan. "All the help and the smiles have been wonderful. They've really been catering to the kids." 

In the Joint Base Lewis-McChord report, Col. Kevin Kilb, 62nd AW commander, praised everyone involved in the support of Operation Provide Passage. 

"I'm proud of the team and their great work and pleased we have the opportunity to welcome and take care of these family members," Colonel Kilb said. 

Army Col. Wayne Shanks, also from U.S. Army North supporting the effort at Seattle-Tacoma IAP, may have said it best in another DOD news report.

"The underlying thing is that we're here to help the people coming out of Japan," Shanks said. "We're doing whatever we possibly can to assist them."

(Tech. Sgt. Renni Thornton and Airman 1st Class Michael Battles, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Melinda L. Larson, Naval Air Station Lemoore Public Affairs, and Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press Service, contributed to this report.)

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