Open house keeps Yokota personnel informed about noncombatant evacuation operations
By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 27, 2017
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — North Korea was the elephant in the room during an open house to keep people informed about noncombatant evacuation operations, or NEO, on Wednesday at Yokota in western Tokyo.
The event was aimed at ensuring everybody knows what to do in case of a noncombatant evacuation, which may be ordered in the event of war, political or civil unrest, or a natural or manmade disaster.
The hermit kingdom has fired missiles over Hokkaido in recent weeks, threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific and simulated a missile attack on a U.S. base in Japan earlier this year.
However, there was no mention of North Korea during the open house, where officials referred only to “manmade or natural disasters” as possible reasons for evacuating Americans from Japan.
“If we ever had to do a noncombatant evacuation out of the country, it would be an ordeal like you’ve never seen in your life,” Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan, told residents gathered in an on-base community center.
Evacuation from Japan could send tens of thousands to repatriation centers in the United States.
“The numbers would be unprecedented in history,” Martinez said.
From the repatriation centers, evacuees could choose where to stay until the emergency passes.
“If 180 days pass and noncombatants still can’t return overseas, new orders will be issued and they’ll stay in the United States,” said Tech. Sgt. Sherrell Moorer, a readiness noncommissioned officer at Yokota.
To ease the process, servicemembers are urged to educate themselves and their families about how the process works, and most importantly, to keep their NEO folders up to date. Each folder contains numerous forms used to send family members, including pets, home in an orderly fashion, apply for temporary assistance loans, get compensation for high-value items lost during an evacuation, and to forward their mail. It also contains copies of important documentation such as ID cards, passports and birth certificates.
“I know it’s a lot of information to keep track of, but it’s much better to have it ready now before you need it instead of scrambling to get it in a hurry,” said Maj. Lon Hopkins, Yokota’s NEO director.
“It sucks, having to do all of this for it, but I feel a little better now that I know more about the process,” said Jillian McAlexander, a family member living on Yokota.