Just another 'dog day afternoon' for Airmen, Sailors

By Tom Saunders | March 24, 2011

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - It was a 'dog day afternoon' March 23 for Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Sawhill and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Green as they volunteered their time to help welcome transiting pets from Japan to the Joint Reception Coordination Center here.

As family members made their way across the Pacific from various locations in the earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged nation, volunteers stationed at and near Travis AFB stepped up to assist with Operation Pacific Passage, the Department of Defense's response to support the voluntary return of family members from Japan.

        As families arrived, they were met by experts from all services led by U.S. Army North to help coordinate follow-on travel to their final destinations. Since a great deal of that coordination required time and focused attention by those arriving from the Far East, the JRCC volunteers lent a hand by carrying pet cages to the pet staging area.

For the two volunteers, it was a very important task.

"Pets are a part of the family," said Sergeant Sawhill, a security forces member assigned to Travis's 60th Security Forces Squadron. "It's important for every 'member' of the family to be taken care of, even the four-legged ones."

Petty Officer Green, assigned to Travis' Air Reconnaissance Squadron 3 said, "This is all about pets and people and making sure they have a smooth transition. Having your pet with you is a stress reliever, and knowing they are being well taken care of can be a great relief as well."

Fourteen cats and dogs made the early flight March 23 along with 240 passengers. Some appeared docile, while others seemed a bit more excited from the flurry of activity surrounding them. But more important, all were healthy and safe.

Army Capt. Matt Reed, the base veterinarian, said the pet care facet of the JRCC provides owners with peace of mind so they can take care of pressing issues like handling plane tickets, securing lodging, reserving rental vehicles or tending to financial matters.

While under the care of Captain Reed, the pets are inventoried, required rabies and health paperwork is taken care of, and volunteers water, feed, walk and play with the pets.

Volunteer Lauren Leighton said she signed up to help because this is about taking care of families.

"The pets are an integral part of the returnees' families and we have a responsibility to take care of people as well as their pets," she said. "The best part is you get to be part of a group of doing a great thing for our community."

Katie Coleman, military-assisted volunteer returnee, traveled with Trigger, a cat belonging to her friends. The friends were on vacation in the U.S. prior to relocating from Misawa Air Base in northern Japan to a new location (also in Japan), when their orders were halted.

"If it were my pet, I'd want someone to take care of it and bring it back, too," said Ms. Coleman.

Being able to provide a peace of mind to families by taking care of their pets is a worthy mission, according to Captain Reed.

"It's a great experience and a great opportunity to be part of the process," he said.

Captain Reed said some owners might be distraught when they arrive or the kids might be upset or crying, but that changes when they see their pets.

"When an owner shows up, they have a smile on their face. They're relieved the pet did OK on the flight." He added with a smile, "Oh, and the dogs go crazy, too!"