Waiting for a flight
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Military family members voluntarily returning to the United States spend the afternoon waiting in line to register for travel out of Yokosuka, Japan, March 18, 2011. Some family members left Japan as a precaution, following the 8.9 magnitude earthqua... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Voluntary Departure
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Military family members board a plane March 21 in Hoshu, Japan. A voluntary departure of family members from the island was authorized by the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State and Department of the Army set up a web site to assist civilians... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Voluntary Family Evacuation
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

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."

Related Links:

Gates authorizes humanitarian funds for Japan, voluntary evacuation of Honshu families

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Army.mil: Asia and Pacific News

DoD: Special Report on the 2011 Japan Eathquake

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