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Asian nations now an option for family members leaving Japan

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 25, 2011

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — After initially allowing voluntarily evacuees from Japan to fly only to the continental United States, the Pentagon will allow some family members to fly to any of the 50 states, as well as several Asian countries.

The Pentagon is preparing detailed guidance that will allow units in the Pacific to authorize evacuations to the additional locales, Defense Department spokesman Eileen Lainez said. Travel expenses will be covered and families will receive per diem pay based on their destination.

The changes could affect the relocation plans of many of the 10,000 family members who registered for the military-assisted, “voluntary departures” from U.S. bases in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and subsequent catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

Thousands of military family members have already flown to the continental United States under the military’s plan, which pays for free airplane tickets and an allowance based on the cost of living where the family relocates. Families may relocate for up to 30 days under the order.

The planned expansion of safe havens was unveiled March 23 in a letter from Lynn Simpson, chief of staff for the deputy undersecretary of defense, to Patrick F. Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management.

“Due to proximity and the presence of mature military installations, I also wish to inform you that the (Defense) Department intends to authorize Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. Territories and Possessions, as non-foreign overseas alternate safe havens for Defense Department [eligible family members] departing Japan,” Simpson wrote.

To include the Asian safe havens, the Defense Department had to ask for the State Department’s approval, according to Simpson.

In a subsequent memo, Kennedy approved the following locations: Japanese prefectures outside the voluntary evacuation areas; South Korea; the Philippines, excluding Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago; Singapore; Thailand and Taiwan.

Pacific Command would consider alternate safe haven requests “on a case-by-case basis to determine if they are in the best interest of the US Government,” according to Simpson.

They would also have to ensure that transportation would cost less than travel to the continental United States. Family members would only receive the lower of the State Department’s per diem rates for either the alternate safe haven, or the standard continental U.S. rate, according to Simpson’s memo.

slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

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