Army North teams continue to assist military families returning from Japan

By Don Manuszewski | March 25, 2011

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – In support of Operation Pacific Passage, military and civilian members of U. S. Army North took the lead in setting up three reception centers on the U.S. West Coast and one in Denver to assist nearly 4,000 military family members who voluntarily returned to the United States in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami March 11.

With short notice, Army North’s Defense Coordinating Element in Federal Emergency Management Agency Region X set-up a Joint Reception Coordination Center March 19 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash., while the DCE in FEMA Region IX set up a JRCC the following day at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. – both within 24 hours of being notified of the requirement.

The Denver JRCC was set up by the DCE from FEMA Region VIII and has been ready to start receiving the families since March 22, with a flight of family members and pets arriving March 24.

“We have an amazing team here,” said Col. Michael McCormick, Army North’s defense coordinating officer in the FEMA Region X. “From the people at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Naval Region Northwest to the many civilian agencies like the Red Cross and the USO, we’re all working together to make this happen for the Department of Defense family members returning from Japan. Their care, comfort and rapid transit to safe haven destinations is our mission”.

The team at SEATAC was the first to stand-up and started receiving its first families March 20. As of March 23, the team had welcomed back more than 2,000 family members and nearly 100 pets.

The second team at Travis AFB began operations March 22 and has already assisted about nearly 2,000 people and numerous pets. The majority of that team is made up from the many service members who make Travis home on a day-to-day basis.

“It’s a great experience and a great opportunity,” said Capt. Matt Reed, Travis AFB veterinarian, who is on hand should any of the pets traveling with the families need his services.

With so many people transiting through the facilities at the JRCCs, it’s been quite a feat to help the families get to their ultimate destination, but everyone is working together to make sure the affected families have the best customer service possible.

“This is absolutely wonderful,” said Katie Coleman, whose husband, U. S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James Coleman, stayed behind at Misawa Air Base, Japan. “Everything and anything we wanted to know, they had an answer for; this has been above and beyond what I expected.”
In Denver, the JRCC team was all set to assist the military family members as they disembarked the aircraft the afternoon of March 24. The Denver JRCC received two flights and was set to receive about two more.

“I am confident we are ready to receive the families because they are our own,” said Col. Marc Hutson, DCO, Region VIII.

All teams understand the impact they can have on not only those families but the bonds they are making within the teams.

“We want to smooth this out the best we can so we can relieve the stress (the families) are experiencing,” said Air Force Col. Jeff Snyder, from the 60th Medical Group at Travis AFB. “I’m enjoying working with the defense coordinating element to make this work.”

(Story contributors: Lt. Col. Randy Martin, Army North PAO; Tom Saunders, Air Force Northern; Sgt. 1st Class Marshall Smith, DCE Region 8)

The JRCCs are expected to continue receiving the military families voluntarily leaving Japan as those families decide to leave.