YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The belt tightening is starting to pinch already.
As the effects of sequestration heat up, some at Yokota Air base are bracing for a chill when an energy conservation plan takes effect that officials say will save roughly $36,500 a day.
It’s one of the first concrete examples of how base residents will be hit at home, along with commissaries closing down one day a week. School officials will be announcing more bad news in the next few days, and base commanders will be holding all-calls as they try to rally the military community to weather the financial storm together.
“I’m going to ask for a lot of help from folks here at Yokota,” Yokota commander Col. Mark August said Friday on American Forces Network radio.
A recent stint of temperate weather on the Kanto Plain prompted Yokota officials to start the process of shutting off the heat at offices and homes about a month earlier than in years past.
“We’ve looked at the weather forecast for the next two weeks, we’ve looked at climatology (and determined) what a great opportunity (it is) for us to start saving right now to meet some of the financial goals that we know we’re going to have to meet,” August said.
“We’re starting to really carefully consider what we can do here at team Yokota to get us through this financial challenge,” August said. “We’re going to be talking a lot more to our airmen, we’re going to be talking a lot more to our families and everyone here at team Yokota as to how we can start looking at areas that we can all save a little bit more.”
Yokosuka Naval Base also is banking on recent warmer temperatures as it plans to shut off heating on base later this month, roughly a month earlier than last year.
Capt. David Owen, commander of Fleet Activities Yokosuka, said Monday on AFN radio that the base must cut $2.6 million in utility costs because of budget cuts.
“So we’re going to be doing some really significant energy conservations methods this summer, and ACs may get turned on a little later than normal,” Owen said.
“But the best way to combat this is for the community to pitch in,” Owen said. “Just be smart with your electricity and your other utilities so we can make this $2.6 million reduction.”
Commanders throughout Japan are meeting with troops and base personnel this week to discuss the impacts of the $40 billion across-the-board cuts as a result of sequestration, which took effect March 1.
“Even though there may be little to put out right now because a lot of the decisions and a lot of the issues are being decided back in the States by our senior leadership, the leaders here in Japan owe it to our workforce to at least inform them of what we know and get that out as soon as possible,” Col. Eric D. Tilley, commander of the Army’s Camp Zama, said last week on AFN radio.
“A lot of that will be geared towards just rumor control and getting out the truth and making sure everyone’s on the same sheet of music regarding the way ahead,” Tilley said.
August said the decision to shut off the heat early at Yokota was not a “crisis action” but that such measures were critical to “preserve our combat capabilities.”
“To hang on to our core capabilities, we’ve got to save our funding,” August said.
Energy conservation measures are nothing new to military communities in Japan. Bases throughout the country limited use as Japan struggled to produce electricity in the aftermath of the devastating March 11, 2011, earthquake that spawned a tsunami and nuclear crisis.
Although Yokota officials have predicted temperatures to stay relatively warm until the end of winter, should the weather take a dip, turning the heat back on may not be an option, Yokota spokesman 1st Lt. Christopher Love said.
“It’s not like a light switch,” Love said Monday. When the base transitions from summer to winter and vice versa, the entire heating and cooling systems must be converted. “It’s a gargantuan effort.”
It was unclear Monday when the heat at military schools at Yokota and Yokosuka would be shut off, and the forecast calls for nighttime temperatures dropping back into the 30s this weekend.
Although the change to what base officials call “no-heat, no-cool” is taking place in the middle of cold and flu season, school officials seemed unworried.
“We don’t have any specific reason to believe these energy management changes will have an impact one way or another in regards to cold and flu season,” Charly Hoff, spokesman for Defense Department Education Activity-Pacific told Stars and Stripes on Monday.