Troops feeling the pinch at the pumps AAFES gas prices go up across Pacific
March 9, 2008
Pacific edition, Sunday, March 9, 2008
As the price of gasoline stateside continues to march upward, Americans in the Pacific also are feeling the pinch at the pumps — in some cases ditching their car for the train or curtailing off-base road trips.
On Saturday, mid-grade fuel at Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Navy Exchange outlets in mainland Japan and Okinawa was to reach $3.082 a gallon, up 4 cents from the previous week.
That’s just shy of the $3.127 per gallon record set in May 2007, according to AAFES officials, and 85 cents a gallon more than what motorists were paying in February 2007.
Diesel was to climb 11 cents Saturday, from $3.357 to $3.463 a gallon.
“It just seems like it’s never going to go back down,” said an exasperated Theodore Chmurynski, a 31-year-old staff sergeant at Misawa Air Base, Japan. “It really seems that over the last several years, it was 99 cents, $1.39 and then ‘Wham!’”
In South Korea and Guam, prices also jumped. AAFES unleaded gas was to retail Saturday in South Korea for $3.227, up three cents per gallon. On Guam, unleaded gas at AAFES and NEX outlets was to go up 4 cents, to $3.269 a gallon.
AAFES and NEX adjust retail gas prices weekly.
At Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in southern Japan, mid-grade fuel sold for $3.47 a gallon Friday and diesel was $3.33.
Gas prices at military bases overseas usually follow stateside trends. That means for Pacific motorists, there may be little relief in sight.
Crude oil prices are surging. On Wednesday, oil rose to over $104 a barrel after the government reported a surprise drop in crude oil stockpiles and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held production levels steady, according to The Associated Press.
At the pump, the national average retail price for regular gasoline inched up 3.2 cents to $3.162 per gallon as of March 3, according to the Department of Energy. That’s an increase of 65.7 cents above the price a year ago.
Some analysts predict gas prices could hit $4 a gallon by summer, as more drivers take to the roads in warmer weather.
Americans at U.S. military bases in the Pacific say they’re concerned about rising gas prices and are trying to curb their driving to save bucks.
Civilian James Hatcher now often takes the train instead of his car when commuting to his job at Yokota Air Base from his off-base home.
“I wish they would put a cap on prices,” he said.
But he can’t complain too much, he added. “It’s still cheaper [on base] than in the States.”
Traveling in Japan is already an expensive experience, said Cmdr. Cheryl Hansen, also of Yokota, and rising gas prices don’t help.
“It does affect how much traveling I do,” she said.
Drivers at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, said Friday that they arealready putting fewer miles on the road because of rising gas prices.
Sgt. Kim Wingfield, Marine Forces Korea, said he’s seen the price of gas go up almost 40 cents in the year he’s been living in Seoul.
More and more, he and his wife are resorting to public transportation to get around, saying it costs about $35 to fill their Hyundai Sonata.
“Of course it [bothers me]. It’s expensive,” he said. “I have to ration my money out these days and think about the trips I’m taking.”
He added thatmore often than not,he chooses to stay home.
Kim Eun-ok, who said it now costs almost $90 to fill her Chevy Suburban, also has been watching how often she gets behind the wheel, and says she drives only on long trips or when she goes grocery shopping.
For getting around town or traveling on post, she takes the subway or walks.
Mary Buhler, a military spouse, said the increasing fuel costs add up during her 20- to 30-minute commute between Sasebo Naval Base and her home at the Hario housing complex.
“Thank god this [minivan] gets pretty good gas mileage,” she said while filling the tank Thursday.
Buhler said she makes the commute about five times each week and won’t be burdened much with a 4-cent increase, but if prices climb above $3.50 per gallon, it could curb her driving.
Others said they don’t have that choice.
“We’re a family of five,” said Air Force spouse Hazel Capalad, 30, of Misawa. “Between games, extra activities and the things I need to do, it’s not something I can cut back on.”
Capalad said she fills up the family van about once a week, at $60 a pop.
Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Green of Sasebo lamented the double whammy of higher fuel costs and a plummeting Japanese exchange rate.
Buying gasoline on base might still be the best deal in Sasebo, Green said.
“It is a big deal but compared to outside the base it’s not too bad. Some of the Japanese locals are paying $6 per gallon,” he said.
The nationwide average of retail regular gasoline in Japan moved up this week for the first time in 11 weeks, rising to the equivalent of about $5.60 a gallon, according to the Oil Information Center in Tokyo.
Other Americans in South Korea also said they felt insulated from exorbitant gas prices on the local economy.
“If we had to pay what the Koreans pay then definitely I would not drive anywhere but to and from work,” said Air Force Capt. Jonathan Newman, 30, assigned to the 303rd Intelligence Squadron at Osan Air Base.
Don Holman, 58, a civilian personnel officer at Osan, said the price trend has not affected him “in the least bit.”
“But, what I feel bad about is the young families,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporters Bryce S. Dubee, Franklin Fisher, Jimmy Norris and Travis J. Tritten contributed to this story.
Pacific prices at the pump
Air Force and Army Exchange Service and Navy Exchange gas prices — per gallon — in the Pacific as of Saturday:
Gas PricesEUROPECountry unleaded super unleaded super plus dieselGermanyChange in price $3.097-4.5 cents $3.211-4.4 cents $3.327-4.2 cents $3.572-10.0 centsNetherlandsChange in price ---$3.564-7.0 cents $3.856-8.1 cents $3.704-8.1 centsUKChange in price ---$4.419-6.9 cents $3.265-6.6 cents $3.355-1.4 centsAzoresChange in price ------------$3.690+1.8 cents ------TurkeyChange in price ------------$3.612+1.6 cents $3.732*-1.6 centsItalyChange in price $3.820no change ------------$4.200no changeFor the week of Feb. 16 - Feb. 22*Diesel EFD **MidgradeNote: AAFES and NEX adjust prices every Saturday. Marine Corps Community Services adjusts prices less regularly at Iwakuni.
Source: AAFES, NEX and Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station
Discounts offered at most bases on Okinawa
Americans at most U.S. military bases in mainland Japan and Okinawa get a break at the pump because of a 25-cent discount the Army and Air Force Exchange Service applies to fuel prices.
Officials said that AAFES receives funds from the Japanese government to be used toward improving the quality of life of U.S. servicemembers.
“AAFES has decided to pass along a direct savings to our customers with these funds in many ways, including reducing the price of gas by 25 cents per gallon at our 14 fueling locations throughout Japan and Okinawa,” Air Force Master Sgt. Donovan Potter said in a written response to Stars and Stripes.
The 25-cent discount was put into place June 1, 2005, Potter noted. It’s applied continuously, no matter the retail price of gas, he said.
AAFES reviews its prices weekly and adjusts as necessary, based on the Energy Department’s previous weekly average for mid-grade gas prices stateside.
Here’s how the formula works:
This week’s DOE average was $3.277. To that, AAFES adds a dispensing cost of $.0548. The pump price before the 25-cent discount is $3.3318. Subtract 0.25 to get the current, rounded price of $3.082.
The Navy Exchange follows AAFES’ lead when it comes to gas prices in Japan and Guam, according to NEX officials.
“We have an agreement with AAFES,” said Kristine M. Sturkie, a NEX public affairs specialist, in a written response to Stars and Stripes. “Guam and Japan are the only overseas areas where AAFES and NEX are in theater together and where both sell gasoline.”
At Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, where mid-grade gas costs $3.47 a gallon, and diesel retails for $3.33, prices are adjusted by Marine Corps Community Services “only when we get a price change from our supplier,” said MCAS Iwakuni spokesman Master Gunnery Sgt. John Cordero in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. Historically, he said, this happens two to three times a year.
The Defense Energy Support Center in Japan supplies fuel to military commands in Japan. At Iwakuni, included in the retail price of gas is the cost of fuel from the supplier, dispensing costs and a mark-up, Cordero said.
- Jennifer Svan