Operation Pacific Passage Winds Down at Travis Air Force Base

Last Updated : 5/10/2011 1:35:31 PM

TRAVIS AFB, Calif. (NNS) -- Operation Pacific Passage, the voluntary military-assisted departure from Japan, neared its end with two flight arrivals of family members at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., March 25.

The final flight will arrive March 28.

Eligible dependents of U.S. service members and Department of Defense civilians assigned to installations on the main island of Honshu, Japan, were authorized by the U.S. Department of State to depart March 16, following a strong earthquake, subsequent tsunami and damaged nuclear power plant.

When word was received March 18 that Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore would be the primary Navy team responding to assist in the effort, the installation's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated.

Senior leadership and the EOC team developed a plan and deployed a team of 10 from the installation and Naval Hospital Lemoore to San Francisco International Airport, one of the initial arrival sites for the operation.

"We were tasked late [March 18] afternoon and our initial team left early [March 19] morning to assist Navy family members arriving from Japan," said Cmdr. Robert Quinn, executive officer, NAS Lemoore.

The team quickly set up operations at a former Air Canada gate, made contact with airport managers and set up shop near U.S. Customs and Immigration.

"We adapt to changing environments on a regular basis; it's what the Navy does best," Quinn added.

When it became apparent Operation Pacific Passage was growing, the Navy team quickly tripled in size with assistance coming from Naval Air Station Fallon, Navy Operational Support Center San Jose, Naval Air Station North Island, Naval Station San Diego and the Navy Public Affairs Support Element West. Sailors and government civilians provided medical assistance, counseling, and help with travel orders. More than 1,200 Navy family members were processed during the five day evolution.

When the operation needed more space it was relocated to Travis AFB. With some 10,000-square feet of passenger terminal and baggage areas, family members were greeted and catered to by hundreds of volunteers.

"This is my contribution while my husband is in Iraq," said Victoria Wong, whose husband, Cmdr. Clement Wong is at Camp Victory, Iraq. "Somehow I feel connected to him by helping people who are so near and dear to his heart."

Wong is staying in nearby Stockton, Calif., with her parents while her husband is on an individual augmentee assignment.

As the operation evolved during the week, attention to detail was apparent as it seemed every need of family members was met.

"I literally started crying when I saw toothbrushes and toothpaste in the bathroom. They've thought of everything and have been so helpful here," said Heather Lewis who arrived from Misawa,

For one junior Sailor from NAS Lemoore, being helpful to the family members was his top priority.

"All they wanted to do was get out of here and get some sleep. I was as courteous as possible and adapted to whatever someone needed help with which was different for every person," said Personnel Specialist Seaman Jose Navedo, who assisted families with travel claims and advance pay questions.

With the crew of Operation Pacific Passage often working around the clock throughout the week, it seems there's no question the operation to care for and comfort family members during their journey was a success.

"The love and compassion you've shown these family members has been phenomenal," Col. James C. Vechery, 60th Air Mobility Wing Commander told the multi-service team before the final two aircraft arrived March 25. "At the end of the day you will have welcomed and loved over 2,500 people during this operation and I thank you all for your help."

What is expected to be the last flight of family members from Japan is set to arrive at Travis Air Force Base today. All of the family members who voluntary departed under Operation Pacific Passage will be provided return travel when directed by the Under Secretary of Defense.

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