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Like any prospective car owner, Airman 1st Class Aaron Bethard kicks the wheels of a Toyota Vista as owner, Senior Amn. William Miller, watches. Miller is donating his high-mileage car free of charge to Bethard under a new program sponsored by Misawa’s First Term Airmen’s Center.
Like any prospective car owner, Airman 1st Class Aaron Bethard kicks the wheels of a Toyota Vista as owner, Senior Amn. William Miller, watches. Miller is donating his high-mileage car free of charge to Bethard under a new program sponsored by Misawa’s First Term Airmen’s Center. (Wayne Specht / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Look out, world, Aaron Bethard is getting a new ride.

Well, not really a brand new car. More like a used car with 100,000 kilometers on the odometer — but with a price tag of zero bucks, Bethard isn’t complaining.

Bethard, an airman first class, is the first recipient of a car donated to lower ranking Air Force troops here under auspices of the new Misawa Vehicle Program.

“It’s our opinion a free car is the next best thing to no car,” said Staff Sgt. Anne Gerling, noncommissioned officer in charge of Misawa’s First Term Airman Center, which sponsors the program.

The center presents a 10-day course for new Air Force arrivals here, explaining Misawa’s mission and including a cultural briefing about the Japanese way of life.

Eligible airmen such as Bethard, usually in pay grades E-3 and below, can apply for a used car donated by owners either getting another vehicle or wanting to save some yen.

Gerling said that on average, junking a car in the Misawa area costs from 8,000 to 9,000 yen, or about $74.

Prime candidates for the program are airmen, recent Misawa arrivals who may be tapped out financially and need transportation at once.

“I paid for a trip home after graduating technical school before coming here,” said Bethard, who has just seven months of service under his belt. “It gets pretty expensive.”

Also, he’s planning to get married this October in Hawaii. So at his pay grade, little is left to finance even a used car.

“During our course for newly arriving airmen, we urge them not to start out in a financial hole,” Gerling said. “That includes financing of cars, too.”

Gerling credits Master Sgt. Ron Roper, the airman center’s superintendent, for thinking of the program — first of its kind, she said, at a Pacific Air Force base.

So far, Senior Airman William Miller, of the 35th Maintenance Squadron’s precision measurement laboratory here, is the only one to donate a car.

After he repairs minor front-end damage to a headlight of his 1984 Toyota Vista, a casualty of Misawa’s rugged winter, Miller will hand over the keys and title to Bethard.

“I’m involved with the Boy Scouts and I haul around a lot of equipment,” Miller said. “I needed another car that better suited my needs so I thought donating it was a good idea.”

He said proximity to his work center from his dormitory “took all of two minutes to walk.”

Bethard, meanwhile, has to travel several miles to the north perimeter of Misawa’s runway to get to work every day — and sometimes his shifts don’t coincide with the base bus schedule.

Miller is visiting local scrap yards seeking replacement parts for his Toyota before transferring it to Bethard.

Bethard says he’ll be patient: “You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

If you want to donate …

Staff Sgt. Anne Gerling, noncommissioned officer in charge of Misawa’s First Term Airman Center, said a few rules govern donations so the program doesn’t become a repository for rolling rust buckets. Donated cars must:

• Be in good working order with no safety discrepancies.• Have six months remaining of Japanese compulsory insurance.• Have all required safety equipment, and lights must be in good working order.• Have a power of attorney from the base legal office for title-transfer purposes.• “Windows and doors must lock too,” Gerling added. “That’s a force-protection issue.”

Call 226-3086 for more information.

Gerling said a waiting list of 12 people would like nothing more than to receive a car under the program.

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