A group of about 70 volunteers increased not only their personal readiness during the Emergency Evacuation Program Phase II Drill here Oct. 17, but that of U.S. Army Japan as a whole.
“You never know when something is going to happen, and we have to make sure everybody is ready,” said Maj. Roberto Herrera, chief of operations for U.S. Army Japan and the EEP manager, citing the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan and the recent Super Typhoon Hagibis.
The exercise helped everyone prepare for an actual evacuation—not only the volunteers, but the agencies that would support evacuees and USARJ itself, Herrera said.
The day started with buses picking up volunteers, their luggage and pets at Sagamihara Family Housing Area and Camp Zama and bringing them to the Camp Zama Community Club. Once there, officials validated the volunteers’ emergency evacuation packets and volunteers met with officials from organizations such as the chaplains’ office, Army Community Service and the American Red Cross.
From there, volunteers, including several children, boarded a bus and traveled to Yokota Air Base, where they checked in as if they were traveling to the United States.
Capt. Lawrence Thomas, an exercise coordinator assigned to the 374th Force Support Squadron, said Air Force officials at Yokota appreciated the opportunity to practice their evacuation procedures with the Army.
“Exercises like this prepare us for the real-world scenarios,” Thomas said. “The worst time to try to get prepared is throughout an actual natural disaster, so the more we practice, the better off we’ll be. So ‘practice makes perfect,’ as the old saying goes,” Thomas said.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Mark Deguzman, assigned to the 374th Force Support Squadron and readiness noncommissioned officer for Yokota Air Base, thanked the volunteers for coming to Yokota.
“We’re tweaking up the process and we really appreciate you coming out and spending your time out of your work or out of your day just to come out here and participate in this opportunity and help us spread the word out that it may be real one day,” Deguzman said.
After the volunteers had checked in at Yokota, they were free to spend two hours eating lunch and shopping. Then they boarded the buses back to Camp Zama and SFHA.
Volunteers said the exercise went well and gave them idea of what it might be like in the event of an evacuation.
Todd Baldwin, a chemist who works for Public Health Command, brought his dog Ziva, a 9-year-old German shepherd, with him so he could practice evacuating with her.
“I usually take her with me when I go places, and the [exercise] worked out that I could bring the dog, so I thought I’d bring her,” Baldwin said. “So far so good. She’s been a little nervous, a little upset at times, but not bad.”
Sarah Matautia, a military spouse who volunteered to participate, said she thought the exercise went smoothly.
“It’s pretty simple and there’s a lot of support around,” Matautia said.
Herrera said USARJ conducts the drills twice a year, first with a Phase I portion, which took place in May this year, during which officials check everyone’s emergency evacuation paperwork, and then the Phase II portion that involves traveling to a nearby base such as Yokota.
“We’re always trying to build readiness, making sure everybody’s familiar with the process,” Herrera said.