(TRAVIS AFB, Calif.) – A team of more than a thousand Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and Marines have partnered at the Forward Joint Reception Center at Travis Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., to assist in the voluntary relocation of Department of Defense (DoD) family members from Japan to the United States, in support of Operation Pacific Passage.
Military family members and civilian DoD personnel have been given the opportunity to relocate to a safe haven in the U.S. in an attempt to reduce the use of limited resources in Japan after the 8.9M earthquake off the coast of Japan March 11, and subsequent tsunamis. Upon arrival, passengers receive assistance with lodging, transportation, and a number of other personal needs.
Col. Robert Eatman, Mission Support Group Commander for the 6oth Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB said the base gladly accepted the mission. Planning began last week and continued through the weekend to accommodate the thousands of travelers who will be relocating over the next few days.
“We like what we do,” said Eatman. “And I know that it shows in the effort that’s been put forth by all involved. I’m absolutely delighted to be a part of this operation, and I’m overwhelmed by the amount of people who have come forth to volunteer in our efforts.”
The ratio of passenger to assistance volunteer is almost one to one, due to the show of strong support by the Travis AFB community and area military personnel, guaranteeing individual attention to transiting family members.
A typical passenger on an Operation Pacific Passage flight is a mother and her children, said Eatman, so much of the preparation has been geared towards their needs. Approximately 570 passengers were accommodated on two flights on the first day of the operation March 22, almost 300 of which were under the age of 12.
“We learned so much from the first flight. We found out we needed more changing tables and nursing areas before and after customs and immigration. We also learned we needed to be able to entertain the kids so their mothers could try to relax after the long flight.”
Sgt. 1st Class Bob Martin Del Campo, an Army reservist from Watsonville, Calif., said it’s evident that attention was given to make the process seamless for the passengers, many of whom had been traveling for more than 24 hours before arriving. He pointed out that children who are relocating are perhaps affected most by the change. Returning their lives to normalcy as quickly as possible is a huge priority in Operation Pacific Passage.
Play areas were created and more water, juice and snacks were brought in for children to relieve some stress from their guardians, and more nursing areas were made to give mothers privacy.
Eatman said due to the overwhelming support the base has received those improvements were made in record time.
“I’m amazed that we’ve gotten this down to a fine-tuned science in a matter of hours,” said Martin Del Campo. “It’s inspiring – what teamwork can do.”
The humanitarian effort has seamlessly merged the team comprised of four service branches.
“One of our mottos at Travis is ‘One team, No seams’ meaning there’s no inter-service rivalry to be found here,” said Eatman. “We all have the exact same mission, whether Navy or Air Force, enlisted or officer. If you look around you can see everyone is hands on – holding babies and carrying luggage. There’s no task that’s not important when it comes to caring for our families.”
The common ground found between the services is the family members themselves, said Martin Del Campo.
“I volunteered because these folks’ whole lives have been disrupted,” he said. “By these families electing to come back to the states, they’re helping the country of Japan, and showing that they want what is best for their family. I’m proud to support them in that.”
Travis AFB is expecting the arrival of at least 3,000 more DoD family members and civilian employees over the next week. The airlift to Travis AFB is the second U.S. arrival location for these voluntary assisted departure flights after Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which has received flights since March 19.