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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — With northbound highways and railways out of service due to Friday's earthquake, DODDS Japan officials turned to Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing and Air Mobility Squadron for help getting 84 Robert D. Edgren High School athletes home to Misawa Air Base.

Around 8 p.m. Sunday, a C-17 Globemaster III airlift plane took off from Yokota with 45 Edgren students, more than half who traveled from Misawa last week and got caught in the quake.

“We’re trying to do what we can to help these folks,” 374th Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Ben Caro said.

While having to focus on the mission, which over the weekend turned more toward relief efforts in the quake’s aftermath in northeastern Japan, “taking care of these folks, we’re doing our best to do it,” Caro said. “As a parent, you want your children to be close to you.”

“We’re doing our best to get these kids reunited with their families,” be it all at a time or piecemeal, whatever it takes to get them all home, DODDS Japan district superintendent Clayton Fujie said.

The Eagles softball, soccer, baseball and track teams were to play against their DODDS Kanto Plain counterparts; the entire slate was canceled Friday afternoon after the magnitude 9.0 temblor and subsequent tsunami, which left Japan’s northeast coast in ruins.

Selected members from each of the teams were added to a list of 51 names of Edgren students, the number of seats available at mid-afternoon on the C-17.

That number dwindled to 45 as more duty passengers arrived. Not being on official travel orders, the students could only travel space-available and in the lowest category possible, 5.

“We just have to hope that nobody else comes along and bumps these kids” off the flight, Fujie said.

The process of getting a portion of the Eagles’ contingent home left some student-athletes feeling conflicted since only half could travel.

Some of the ones left behind “were crying in the rooms” at the Temporary Living Facility, Edgren senior soccer player Jack Koch said.

“I don’t want to go yet,” senior soccer player Kiyoshi Schaeler said. “I think this is the safest place in Japan and I want to stay.”

“We told them (coaches) that the girls should go and the boys would stay,” Koch said. Acknowledging that at least some making it home being better than none making it home, he said: “There is that. But I feel badly for those who wanted to go home.”

Some of the students are experienced AMC aircraft passengers. “It’s very loud, it hurts my ears and to talk to somebody, you have to yell loudly,” Schaeler said.

Another student, senior soccer player Brianne Soeder, hadn’t been on a flight longer than three hours since first arriving in Misawa in 2004. “I’m just scared, terrified” of flying, she said.

Coaches acknowledged the students’ mixed feelings and sympathized with them seeing some of their teammates left behind.

“I want everybody on this flight,” track coach Martina Campbell said. “I don’t want to leave anybody behind. We’re the Edgren team. We’re one. We aren’t separate teams. It’s hard.”

There was one side benefit to being on the flight. DODDS ordered five pizzas – sliced into 16s, instead of your more traditional eight – which the passengers consumed zestfully.

“We had to come up with food quick. Pizza pies work,” Campbell said.

DODDS picked up the tab for that, as they did for meals at the Samurai Café dining facility. The remaining students and coaches had one more night in the TLF; if they couldn’t get out Monday, there was every chance they’d have to bed down in the high school gym, Fujie said.

AMC officials said one departure for Misawa is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, but that could change depending on mission requirements.

Caro said he would see it through until every last student made it onto a flight.

“It’s something I normally wouldn’t be doing, but I wanted to make sure it got done,” he said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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