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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan – The rumors are true: Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron will be deployed as soon as it’s possible, according to base officials.

Col. Michael Rothstein, 35th Fighter Wing commander, said Saturday that getting the squadron’s pilots and maintainers somewhere else in the region – likely South Korea – is crucially important because they have to fly to maintain their skills.

And since Misawa’s airfield is quickly becoming the hub of military humanitarian relief efforts following the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunamis that ravaged northeast Japan, Rothstein said he needs to find somewhere else for the F-16s to train.

“We’re still a fighter wing,” he said.

He didn’t have a firm deployment date, but said the squadron would deploy for two weeks to a month after he got families members who want to leave Japan under a “voluntary departure” program out of the country. As of noon Sunday, about 1,100 family members had registered to leave Misawa for the United States.

Rothstein delivered that message – and discussed other recovery operations – during three town hall meetings Saturday. About 80 residents gathered in the base movie theater for the final 7:30 p.m. session.

Rothstein brought tears to some eyes when he began with a silent prayer “for all of our Japanese friends who’ve had a really rough week.”

Most of the meeting focused on the plan to send families home and what it meant for those leaving, and the troops staying behind.

Rothstein said that the current plan is to have families who go back to the States return to Japan within 30 days. While in the States, the family members will receive a $25 per day stipend. The military will also reimburse families for hotel costs.

Rothstein asked Cummings Elementary School principal Scott Sterry to speak to the audience about what families with kids should do while back in the states.

“Enroll your kids in school in the states ASAP,” Sterry said. “They need to be in front of a teacher.”

Sterry said that while everyone hopes to be back in Japan within 30 days, there’s obviously no guarantee that will happen.

He said parents should keep a written record of attendance of any schooling so administrators here can ensure the children receive credit when they return.

flackt@pstripes.osd.mil

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