WASHINGTON -- About 200 military family members arrived March 19 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Wash., after leaving Japan voluntarily, U.S. Army North officials said.

The family members left Yokota, Japan, aboard a government-chartered airplane, Col. Wayne Shanks, an Army North spokesman, told American Forces Press Service in a phone interview today.

Shanks stressed that the family members were not forced to flee. Rather, he said, those who decided to leave Japan likely did so as a precaution. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck northern Japan on March 11, and the tsunami that followed, devastated the country, including destruction to viable infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants.

"We're providing for Department of Defense families who want to (leave) Japan, and that could be for a number of reasons," Shanks said. "I don't think the radiation threat is the overriding reason, although it is a concern."

As what officials have called a prudent precaution, the Defense Department is providing eligible family members of department personnel an opportunity to voluntarily leave Japan at government expense.

The only priority for volunteers is for those closest to the disaster or threat, Army North officials said, and flights will continue throughout the foreseeable future to accommodate servicemembers and their families.

"The underlying thing is that we're here to help the people coming out of Japan," Shanks said. "We're doing whatever we possibly can to assist them."

Page last updated Wed September 28th, 2011 at 10:32