CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Sept. 12, 2021) – U.S. Army Japan Commander Maj. Gen. JB Vowell hosted a virtual town hall meeting here Sept. 3 to provide housing and COVID-19 updates to community members on both mainland Japan and Okinawa.
The 90-minute event was broadcast live on the USARJ Facebook page to allow community residents to send questions directly to leadership.
“I want to ensure that we continue to provide our greater community an opportunity to voice questions and raise concerns because we have experts who can help you solve some of those problems,” Vowell said during opening remarks.
Assisting Vowell with the briefing were USARJ Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Dodson Jr.; the U.S. Army Garrison Japan leadership team of Col. Christopher Tomlinson and Command Sgt. Maj. Justin Turner; Col. Tanya Peacock, U.S. Army Medical Activity – Japan commander; and other subject-matter experts.
And joining virtually from Okinawa were 10th Support Group Commander Col. Christopher Paone; the USAG Okinawa leadership team of Lt. Col. Ryan Gladding and Command Sgt. Maj. Kalani Kalili; Air Force Lt. Col. Loren Jones-Harris, commander of the 718th Civil Engineering Squadron on Kadena Air Base; and William Salter, chief of the Housing Flight at Kadena.
Vowell explained the health and safety of the USARJ community is his top priority, and that the community has the right to quality, safe, clean and healthy housing.
He also provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation from his perspective.
“Right now we’re seeing the effects of the highly transmissible Delta variant, so both vaccinated and unvaccinated rates of infections are going up,” Vowell said. “It involves a higher risk of force health protection for Soldiers, our families and the mission.”
Vowell explained that USARJ has taken increased steps on social distancing, wearing masks inside and limiting sizes of groups and formations.
He also said that he understood how the community could feel fatigued after dealing with the pandemic for the last 18 months, but asked for continued vigilance.
“At this point, I would just ask for your cooperation in helping us mitigate this spread,” he said.
Vowell said Soldiers should expect guidance and direction shortly on the Department of Defense-mandated COVID-19 vaccinations, and urged all community members to opt for vaccinations.
“Those vaccines are doing what they are designed to do,” he said. “They are protecting you from serious and long-term health risk.”
Camp Zama Briefing
Tomlinson opened his remarks by stressing he wanted to ensure that he is synched with the community, he is providing updates on housing-related issues, and he has a way to receive feedback directly from residents. He addressed the following areas:
· Playground closures/refurbishments: Earlier this year, the Garrison closed many playgrounds to allow for maintenance. Six of the 27 playgrounds remain closed, and four of those will be permanently demolished. The Garrison will invest $2.5 million to replace two of the closed playgrounds. The end result will be 23 playgrounds: 15 on Sagamihara Family Housing Area and eight on Camp Zama.
· Self-Help material/equipment usage: Some off-post housing residents have asked about the ability to use Self-Help store for their off-post homes. This is not allowed, however, due to a statutory prohibition.
· Housing tower grocery carts: There are four serviceable carts at Bldg. 1050 and five at Bldg. 743, the two apartment-style high-rise housing units on Camp Zama, and the Garrison is working to identify funding to purchase 10 more carts for each tower, with the goal of adding the carts in the next fiscal year.
· Bldg. 1050 air conditioning: The Directorate of Public Works made extensive repairs to the air conditioning system and it is functioning normally. DPW also has a back-up connection to a separate utility plant if needed. Residents are asked to keep windows shaded during the day and to use fans to aid in the movement of the cooler air. A full renovation of Bldg. 1050 is not planned until fiscal 2027.
· Child supervision policy: Some community members have asked about policies concerning the supervision of children. Those who wish to see a copy of the policy can either access it on the Garrison Share Point site, or can call Army Community Services (DSN 263-4357) or Child and Youth Services (DSN 263-5701) to request a copy.
· Housing modifications: All housing residents are briefed that they can make housing modifications as long as those modifications are safe and the housing units are returned to their original condition before the resident moves out. Residents can contact Housing (DSN 263-5859) for more information.
· Pet leash policy: Residents are reminded that pets must be leashed at all times.
· Customer satisfaction surveys: Camp Zama housing residents were thanked for assisting with a recent Army Family Housing survey effort. Of the 26 Garrisons worldwide that earned an “Outstanding” rating, Camp Zama was ranked fifth.
Before turning over the floor to the Okinawa team, Tomlinson thanked the community for providing crucial feedback.
“I want to add that your comments and suggestions are always appreciated on surveys or via [Interactive Customer Evaluation] as they help our housing organization and our leadership with continuous improvements and with our improvement efforts,” Tomlinson said.
During opening remarks from Okinawa, Paone explained that most Army families live on other military installations across the island, or in off-post housing. He lauded both Army and Air Force teammates for working together to ensure the highest quality housing for the Army community on Okinawa. Okinawa housing updates from both Gladding and Jones-Harris included:
· Torii Station barracks: Only two Soldiers remain in Bldg. 214, and plans are finalized to move them when they return to Okinawa. A kitchen renovation project in Bldg. 217 is complete, and final inspections are being conducted.
· Typhoon preparation: Residents are asked to download and use the Kadena Community Connect app for the latest typhoon information.
· Refuse/recycling: There was a lapse in contracted services in July, but that has been addressed, and normal refuse and recycling pick-ups are ongoing.
· Illegal dumping: Air Force officials have noticed illegal dumping of trash on installations, and they are asking anyone who notices it happening to report it through their chain of command.
· Exterior housing inspections: Housing inspectors are keeping an eye on the housing areas and will issue tickets for those not keeping their grass cut or who aren’t properly cleaning up their yards and safely storing their toys and other items. Residents are urged to follow the housing regulations.
· “Port to Final Residence” program: About 61 percent of inbound housing residents are utilizing this program so they can move directly into housing and a restriction-of-movement period there instead of staying in temporary lodging. Sponsors are key to this effort, and must start a conversation with Air Force housing officials to make this happen. They can contact housing at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Peacock explained that U.S. Army Japan has seen an uptick in COVID-positive cases stemming from both travel and community spread—generally attributable to the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant. She said the cases on mainland Japan have been relatively mild or asymptomatic among vaccinated personnel.
“So the vaccines are working well to protect us from severe illness,” she said.
Peacock said the Centers for Disease Control now recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing methods are difficult to maintain, such as while shopping.
She added that the Department of Defense requires its personnel to wear a mask in all indoor facilities, regardless of one’s vaccination status.
Peacock said that MEDDAC-Japan has begun preparations for the upcoming mandatory military vaccinations, but that anyone can voluntarily receive the vaccine now.
“Right now, MEDDAC-Japan is offering both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine,” Peacock said.
“Lastly, the latest predictions on vaccines for elementary-school–aged dependents suggest that it might be late 2021 before it is approved,” she added.
Following Peacock’s remarks, panel members in both locations answered a wide variety of community questions for nearly an hour.
Questions ranged from Halloween trick-or-treat plans to how community members can focus on resiliency, from the possibility of childcare on Okinawa’s Torii Station to COVID safety in the schools.
During closing remarks, Vowell thanked the community for taking the time to participate and to submit questions, and he urged the community to keep the lines of communication are open.
“I’m in it with you,” Vowell said. “I live here, I work here, I am part of this community and we are all part of the greater USARJ and Japanese local national community—so we’ve got to take care of each other.”
NOTE: If you would like to view the town hall in its entirety, visit the U.S. Army Japan Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/USARJ/videos/873805616905029.