YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Those who chose not to take part in the military’s voluntary departure program are now allowed to travel in and out of the country on the popular space-available flights from the three major Air Force bases in Japan and the Navy airstrip near Tokyo, according to military officials.
However, the roughly 7,000 U.S. military dependents who took the military-funded flights out of Japan in the last few weeks are not authorized to use the Space-A program to re-enter the country, officials said.
Those who left with the voluntary departure were issued State Department orders, which make them ineligible to then switch over to the military’s Space-A system to come back to Japan, according to Beth Gosselin, a Yokota spokeswoman.
Space-A flights were scheduled to leave Yokota throughout the day Thursday, some bound for Misawa and Kadena air bases in Japan, the military’s Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean and the city-state of Singapore.
Because the paperwork for Space-A travel and the military’s voluntary departure program are different, sorting out who does and does not qualify to fly at military passenger terminals should be easy, officials said.
Yokota – headquarters for the military’s massive humanitarian aid and relief operation in Japan – reinstated the Space-A flights after the dependent departures had slowed, Bryan said. Flights leaving Kadena Air Base on Okinawa bound for mainland Japan were still closed to Space-A travelers, base officials told Stars and Stripes Wednesday.
Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, as well as Naval Air Facility Atsugi have also re-opened Space-A travel.
Space-A travel gives members of the military community the chance to catch “hops” around the world on U.S. government aircraft. It works in an ordered hitch-hiker fashion, requiring military orders, leave forms and the time to wait for a ride that has room. The program is especially popular around the Defense Department school system’s spring break, which is set for April 8-17 this year.
Most active-duty troops, military retirees and their dependents qualify for Space-A travel. Some civilian Defense Department employees in the Pacific are allotted two flights per year as part of their government benefits package.
Permanent-change-of-station moves to Yokota and Misawa air bases have been delayed in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless, according to the Air Force.
Flights in and out of Yokota are non-stop as the home base for U.S. aid operations, both in the tsunami-ravaged northeastern coast and at the runaway nuclear power plant in Fukushima, 100 miles south of the wreckage, which was damaged in the earthquake.