Evacuating the bases: What people are saying
Stars and Stripes reporters talked to dozens of American servicemembers, family members and civilians at bases in the Far East as the possibility of evacuation from Japan loomed in their lives. Here's some of what they had to say.
AtsugiReporter: Grant Okubo
Iayaqua Cohen, a military spouse from Greenville, N.C. is taking her children out of Japan for good, she said. Her husband is set to transfer to a new assignment in Mississippi in three months, so Cohen decided that although she and her three children have enjoyed their time in Japan that they will head back to U.S. and prepare for their next duty station, she said.
The radiation threat was a key concern in her decision to evacuate, she said.
“I had major concerns about the radiation,” said Cohen
Cohen said she isn’t worried about the evacuation process and is simply “ready to go."
Angela Fitzsimmons, a military spouse at Atsugi is evacuating with her child and pets, she said. Fitsimmons explained she is not particularly worried about the radiation, but had some concerns about her pets and had some fears that by not evacuating now and taking her pets might result in having them be left behind and possibly put down in the event a mandatory evacuation was called for.
Tina Parquette, a military spouse with two children said she is joining the voluntary evacuation because of the uncertainty of the situation, but mainly because she understands that with their family out of harm’s way, her husband can focus on the mission.
She believes she will be comfortable to return to Japan once the all clear has been given, Parquette said. When I get back I’m going to wash everything down that’s been outside really well,” she said. Parquette hopes to get to San Diego to meet up with family there.
“Making the decision to go was difficult at first,” Parquette said. “Once I decided to move my family, everything started to fall in place, especially after we packed,” she laughed.
Laura Sheeks, a teacher at Atsugi, said she had figured out most of what would be announced about the voluntary evacuations, she said. Sheeks understands she will be in one of the last groups to depart.
Sheeks is following the overall recommendation to evacuate at this point, she said.
“If I stay here, I need to continue to be worried about the plant and more earthquakes,” she said.
“I’ve had enough earthquakes,” said Sheeks, who hopes to make to California she says.
“I would like it a lot better if we knew where we were going or had some choice in the destination,” said Sheeks. But Sheeks said she understand that the base is dealing with a difficult situation and is doing the best it can.
Zaida Brewer, also a teacher at Atsugi said she feels very confident that the base will be able evacuate all the familes out of Atsugi in time.
As a teacher, Brewer said she is concerned about returning to the base early so that the schools can be ready to receive back the children to school.
If they tell us to come back, we’ll all come back, Brewer said.
As far as the expenses that might be incurred through this evacuation, Brewer said she is not too concerned about reimbursement at this point.
“I would pay whatever just to get out of here,” Brewer said. “For the peace of mind it’s worth it.”
Brewer said she is not too confident about the notification system the base has set-up to notifying passengers about their upcoming flight, but said that she’ll also rely on her commands phone tree, they’ve set up.
Each flight group has essentially an hour to check-in after the notification for the upcoming flight has been announced, and Brewer worries that the short notice may result in having people there earliest flying out first as opposed to the order set by different categories, she said.
If the evacuations were to fall through Brewer said she might make other plans.
Also if she hasn’t flown out by Tuesday, Brewer said she’ll look towards traveling south by other means.
YokosukaReporters: Erik Slavin and Tim Wightman
Anita White, a Navy spouse, caught the 2:30 p.m. Friday shuttle with her children to Narita International Airport, even though they weren’t flying out until the next day.
“We were afraid the bus would be too full tomorrow,” said White, of Silverdale, Wash.
White booked plane tickets on Wednesday, a day before the military announced that they were planning voluntary evacuations. The most difficult part of remaining in Japan has been the confusion over exactly how much of threat the radiation coming from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant really is to people at Yokosuka.
“Then there is also the uncertainty of when we’ll be able to come back,” she said.
White’s son, Nathan, 17, is a senior and hopes to graduate later this year from Kinnick High School in Yokosuka. Although those plans now seem less certain, Nathan White tried to focus on the big picture.
“We’re thankful we’re getting the help we have … I’m just glad everybody is doing their job and making sure that we stay safe,” he said.
Tarina Warby, a Yokosuka spouse of a Marine 0-3, mother of three and currently expecting, from Chantilly, VA.
On her feelings waking up this morning expecting to leave:
"We really didn't want to leave Japan. We love the Japanese people. But there was also this relief. Relief that I don't have to worry about it being too late."
On the Navy standing out on this issue: "People on other bases just aren't that concerned. I felt like the Navy really cared about the families."
On her general confusion about the radiation and danger levels: "I do feel like, "who am I supposed to believe?"
On leaving Japan: "I felt a little guilty about leaving. But then I thought that the troops can more efficiently serve Japan if they are not concerned about their family's safety. Whether or not we are evacuated, I'm grateful for the Navy (Adm. Wren/Thomas) for caring about families."
"Adm. Wren and Thomas have put their careers on the line to make sure we're safe."
On the day's uncertainties and change of plans: "At first I was angry and then I was a little bit sad. And confused. When I had time to think about it, I didn't know what to believe. I decided to go on as normal and to be grateful that (Adm. Wren/Thomas) the Navy was looking out for their families. Now I know that they have a plan in place to get us out if we need to be evacuated and that's it good to go. Everyone knows what they're supposed to do now."
OkinawaReporter: Matt Orr
The feeling from everyone I spoke to is that they are not currently concerned about the situation affecting them down here on Okinawa.
“No we don’t have any fears and are not too worried here on Okinawa,” said Raymond Walker, husband of Army Sgt. Stephanie Walker.
The Walker’s have two daughters aged five and eight and both said that if the situation worsened and could affect their daughters, they would definitely consider a voluntary evacuation if offered.
Megan Heffel, married to a Marine Corps officer, said she is not concerned at the moment.
“I have been educating myself on wind patterns and other things, but even though it doesn’t affect me down here at the moment, it is on my mind all the time.”
She added, “Considering I am pregnant at the moment, if radiation did reach us down here and a voluntary evacuation was offered, I would definitely consider it.”
Hali Fugate, a Marine Corps spouse, is also not concerned. “I think my family in America is more concerned for us over here than we are over here.”
If a voluntary evacuation were offered here, she said it would depend on her doctor’s recommendations.
“We have two children and one has a medical condition, so it would be up to the doctors as to whether to leave or not.”
Hannam Village, SeoulReporter: Alfredo Jimenez, Jr.
Pfc. Denzel Allen, 652nd Air Defense, Suwon Air Base: "My biggest concern is not being ready for an earthquake here because there are a lot of families. I'm mean, it's a tragedy over there, similar to Haiti and Hurricane Katrina and hopefully our troops can help restore them to normalcy."
Pfc. Jared Aquinas, Camp Casey: "I hope (U.S) and Japan don't stop doing business together because of the earthquake. I'm not worried about the radiation and hope we got there in time to assist them"
Pfc. Angel Salinas, K-16 Air Base: "I'm more worried about the economy because Japan's plays a big role in our global economy and hope it doesn't start a domino effect. I'm sure the radiation is too far to cause any concern to me here, so I'm thinking of the long-term effect."
Yongsan GarrisonReporter: Ashley Rowland
At U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan in Seoul, several people said they were following news of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster closely but weren’t panicking. Nobody who was interviewed said they were concerned about radiation from the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi plant reaching Seoul.
“I think if we spend too much time panicking and worrying ‘what if, what if, what if,’ we’d not be helping those people that need help,” said Debi Straub, whose husband, an airman, works for U.S. Forces Korea. She said friends at Misawa and Kadena air bases appear to be safe and taking the disaster in stride, and military commanders in Japan were “doing a great job of getting the message out and keeping people abreast of the situation.”
“I feel really horrible for them because that could have easily been us,” said Rochanda Power, whose husband, a soldier, also works for USFK. Her children, ages 8 and 11, know about the earthquake but – like herself -- aren’t worried for their own safety.
“I feel very safe here,” she said. “I have faith that they (the military) would keep us informed.”
“I pray for them every night,” Pfc. Chelsea Prochet of the 65th Medical Brigade of those in Japan. “I’ve already told everybody in my chain of command that I’m willing to go there to help.”
Chief Tiffany Behrends, with the Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 14 from San Diego, California who is in a dual military family will be escorting her two children, ages eight and three years-old back to the U.S. to stay with her children’s grandparents, she said.
“For us being dual-military, knowing that our kids our back with family to take care of them makes it easier for us to come to work and do our jobs.”
She explained that they are being precautious and taking the opportunity to evacuate their children, but mainly this evacuation will allow them to focus on their mission here in Japan, she said. Additionally, Behrends said the return back to the U.S. will be good for her children and possibly return some level of normalcy back into their lives, she said.
Behrends, said she’ll be happy to bring her children back once things calm down, she said.