By Lisa R. RhodesApril 23, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Staff Sgt. Alan Martin and his wife, Megumi, were celebrating the birth of their daughter Maria when, eight days later, on March 11, a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan.
On March 18, the Department of Defense and the Department of State issued a directive that authorized the voluntary departure of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel in Japan.
Soon afterwards, the Japanese government issued a warning about traces of radiation in the country's water and its unsuitability for consumption by young children.
The Martins were living at Camp Zama, an Army installation 25 miles southwest of Tokyo and about 165 miles from Futaba, site of the earthquake and tsunami.
They decided it would be best for Megumi Martin, a Japanese native, and Maria to leave the country and stay with the staff sergeant's parents in Maryland. Staff Sgt. Martin is completing a three-year assignment in Japan with the Medical Department Activity this September. He has received orders that he will be assigned to Takoma, Wash.
Megumi Martin and Maria arrived in the U.S. from Camp Zama on March 26 and have been living with Alice and Bob Martin, her mother-and father-in-law, at the couple's home in Severna Park.
Not long after Megumi and Maria arrived, Melodie Menke, the relocation program manager at Fort Meade's Army Community Service, contacted Martin to ask if she needed any assistance, including medical care, child care or counseling.
Menke followed the Installation Management Command's directives to provide aid to repatriated military families, part of a program called Operation Tomodachi, after the tragedy.
"It's been great," said Alice Martin, Megumi's mother-in-law, during an interview April 13 at the Community Readiness Center. "We thought we would handle things on our own. When Melodie [Menke] called, we were glad to have someone we could go to during the process."
Bob Martin, Megumi's father-in-law and a retired DoD civilian, said that the repatriation enabled he and his wife to meet Megumi for the first time and to spend time with their granddaughter.
"We thought it would be six months until we saw the baby," he said.
Menke also helped Martin enroll in new parenting classes and counseling for motherhood and the separation from her husband and Japanese relatives. Menke is also working closely with Harlan Anders, acting director of Fort Meade's Defense Military Pay Office, on Megumi Martin's travel claims.
Martin and Maria were able to come to the U.S. under the voluntary departure order because they fit one of the categories in the program, Menke said.
To help repatriated military families, the military installation closest to their U.S. destination is contacted so community service personnel can serve as their case managers when they arrive. All of the service branches are participating in the repatriation effort.
Menke said that on April 18, the voluntary departure status of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel in Japan was terminated. Megumi and Maria have 10 days from that date to return to Camp Zama if they want their expenses to be paid by the federal government.
"She wants to get back to her family," said Alice Martin. "My son is anxiously waiting."