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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — GIs and family members in Japan and Okinawa say they’ll be hit hard by AAFES’s plan to increase gasoline prices 20 cents a gallon starting Sunday.

“I think it’s pretty high,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Thomas of Yokota Air Base. “It will have an impact on people, especially the lower ranks.”

Yokota spouse Brandie Neal said simply, “That’s going to suck. I pay $20 to fill up my car now.”

Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials said this week gas prices would jump from $1.44 to $1.64 per gallon for midgrade — the only grade of unleaded fuel available in Japan — and from $1.33 to $1.51 per gallon for diesel. Prices will be locked in until Sept. 30, 2004.

The price hikes were mitigated somewhat by an increase in the discount given for larger purchases. AAFES now gives coupons good for $1 off the price if a customer buys at least eight gallons of gas. AAFES officials said Thursday the gas coupon will be raised to $2 off for an eight-gallon purchase.

The Navy Exchange planned no immediate price increases, NEX spokeswoman Christine Stirkey said Thursday evening.

Some AAFES customers said the price increase surprised them because AAFES officials said a week ago any price hike would be frozen for a month while they reviewed pricing policies.

“To say they’re not going to raise the price and then raise it 20 cents a gallon ... that’s a big increase,” said Okinawa Marine Sgt. Frank Goody, 3rd Material Readiness Battalion.

Other reactions ranged from unenthusiastic acceptance through resignation to rejection.

“As long as it’s less than in the States, I don’t think we have room to complain,” said family member Carla Edge, who lives on Okinawa. “We don’t pay taxes, so I don’t see it as a big deal.”

Said Thomas: “If it needs to be done, it needs to be done.”

At Camp Zama, George Dale Jr., JROTC instructor, said he just paid $11.75 for 8.16 gallons of gas that, after Sunday, will cost $13.30.

The retired Army sergeant major said active-duty servicemembers “really don’t need this type of a price increase. ... I honestly can understand adjustments, but due to the circumstances that we currently have in the world ... with all of forces being deployed, and family members overstretched, I think they can come up with a way to reduce this to at least half of that increase. A minimum of half without a doubt.”

At Yokota, Senior Master Sgt. Norman Pryde questioned why AAFES is raising its prices when stateside pump prices are decreasing.

“Now all of a sudden over here it’s going up where we’re supposed to be taking care of our troops,” he said. “The prices should be a little lower than what folks in the States are paying.”

On Oct. 1, the average gasoline price in the States was $1.58 per gallon for regular grade and $1.68 for midgrade, according to the American Automobile Association’s daily gas price report, available at www.fuelgaugereport.com. On Sept. 24, average national prices were $1.63 per gallon for regular and $1.73 for midgrade — down from Labor Day weekend’s record average high of $1.75 a gallon for unleaded.

Exchange officials have said AAFES’s annual Japanese and Okinawa fuel prices are based on the previous fiscal year’s average gas prices in the 48 contiguous states, as tallied by the Department of Energy, and the dispensing costs in each overseas market.

In South Korea and Guam, where gasoline prices are adjusted monthly, retail fuel also will rise in October. Prices in South Korea will go from $1.65 a gallon to $1.72 for midgrade and from $1.83 to $1.90 for premium. Diesel will drop from $1.53 a gallon to $1.51.

AAFES will increase fuel prices at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, from $1.67 a gallon to $1.73 for unleaded and from $1.85 per gallon to $1.92 for premium unleaded.

AAFES customers in Japan, facing a 20-cent-per-gallon increase for the next 12 months, still were mixed on whether they’d prefer monthly or annual price adjustments.

“I’m kind of thankful that they only adjust once a year,” said Edge, the Okinawa family member. Had the price adjustment come during the war with Iraq, she said, “prices could’ve gone up considerably.”

“Monthly would be better,” said Senior Airman Michael Powell, 25, of Yokota. “If it goes down one month, then we save money.”

Even with the increases, AAFES customers across the Pacific are getting a bargain compared to off-base, where average prices for unleaded range from $4.33 per gallon in Tokyo to $3.28 per gallon in Okinawa. On Guam, most service stations were selling a gallon of unleaded for $2.04 Thursday, said Hertz rental agent Mary Solang. “Prices started going up this summer,” she said.

— Fred Zimmerman and Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

Cost per gallon

Mainland Japan: Unleaded, about $4.33Premium, about $4.78Diesel, about $3.61

Okinawa: Unleaded, about $3.28Premium, about $3.62Diesel, about $2.74

South Korea (Seoul): Unleaded, $4.16Diesel, $2.55

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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