By Sharon D. AyalaApril 4, 2011
Medical assets from the Western Regional Medical Command supported the efforts of U.S. Army North in the evacuation of thousands of military Family members following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the subsequent threat of radiation exposure there.
In support of the U.S. DoD mission, Operation Tomodachi, a reception center, operated by Army, Air Force and Navy personnel, to include a host of volunteers from the USO and other non-profit agencies, was established at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on March 19, to provide a wide-range of support services to Family members during their layover in the state.
For nearly a week, a team from Madigan Army Medical Center, consisting of a physician and four medics, worked with health care personnel from Naval Hospital Bremerton, to provide on-site support such as medical records assessment, over-the-counter medications, and answering general medical-type questions. Four drivers from Madigan were also on-site to provide transportation to a medical facility for individuals who required medical treatment.
"My priority is that whatever medical needs evacuees may have upon arrival, our medical team is prepared to provide the care needed, either at Madigan or the closest available medical treatment location, "said Col. Dallas Homas, Madigan commander.
Additionally, a small team from the WRMC Headquarters Operations Division facilitated continuous communication between Army North and the medical assets in the Western Region.
"All of the MTFs in the region were ready to provide repatriation support to returning military Families, or additional assistance to those MTFs that were already engaged in this effort," said Johnny Garnett, deputy chief, Operations Division."
Similar to Madigan, Evans Army Community Hospital, Fort Carson, Colo., in conjunction with Buckley AFB and ARNORTH, was also prepared to support the any Family members who arrived at Denver International Airport.
Other services that were offered by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Navy Region Northwest, and U.S. Army North included assistance with lodging, travel orders, transportation, emergency financial assistance, child care, legal services and more.
The first group of Family members began arriving on DoD chartered airplanes Saturday, March 19. According to one of the on-site coordinators, there were a total of 20 flights, each one carrying between 100 to 300 family members.
On March 22, long before the plane was scheduled to arrive, James and Brenda Gordon had already made the three-hour drive from Vancouver, Wash., to the airport\'s USO reception center where their daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were scheduled to arrive.
The couple was happy because they had not seen their grandchildren since last year, but anxious about the circumstances surrounding their return to the U.S.
"They live just 100 miles from the nuclear plant," Brenda explained. "They had the option to stay or come home, and they finally decided that it would be safer for them to leave, and for our active duty son's peace of mind."
That was the overwhelming reason many of the Family members on that particular flight said that they opted to come back to the United States.
Staff Sgt. Nicole Powell, U.S. Air Force, traveled back to the states for just 24-hours to take her two-year-old daughter to her grandparents' home in Valencia, Calif.
"I've never been away from her, but I'm doing this as a precaution," she said.
Many of the evacuees spent a few days in Washington State before eventually traveling on to their final destination.
This was a great example of a variety of military and civilian agencies working together to take care of military Families.
"It's not a service-specific operation," said Lt. Col. Rich Whitaker, deputy commander of the 1st Joint Mobilization Brigade and the officer-in-charge at Sea-Tac. "This is taking care of family members."