Gates Authorizes Humanitarian Funds for Japan

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has autho­rized up to $35 mil­lion in ini­tial Defense Depart­ment funds for human­i­tar­i­an aid to Japan, a Pen­ta­gon spokesman said this morn­ing.
Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said the fund­ing is in addi­tion to $8 mil­lion in total planned aid to Japan from the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment.

The funds will be used to help earth­quake and tsuna­mi sur­vivors on the main Japan­ese island of Hon­shu, where dam­age to reac­tors at the Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi nuclear pow­er plant has prompt­ed DOD to autho­rize the vol­un­tary depar­ture of eli­gi­ble fam­i­ly mem­bers from the island to the des­ig­nat­ed “safe haven” of the Unit­ed States.

Eli­gi­ble fam­i­ly mem­bers are those who are in Japan on orders because of their ser­vice mem­ber, Lapan said. They will be eli­gi­ble for reim­burse­ment for trav­el out of Japan. Fam­i­ly mem­bers in Japan sim­ply vis­it­ing a ser­vice mem­ber are not eli­gi­ble for trav­el reim­burse­ment, the colonel explained.

“We have also sus­pend­ed trav­el to the island of Hon­shu for all DOD depen­dent per­son­nel,” Lapan said, adding that the autho­riza­tion does not affect ser­vice mem­bers or U.S. civil­ian employ­ees.

Accord­ing to the DOD mem­o­ran­dum autho­riz­ing the trav­el, the “depar­ture” sta­tus for fam­i­ly mem­bers who relo­cate will remain in effect until the State Depart­ment ter­mi­nates it. State Depart­ment offi­cials also approved vol­un­tary depar­ture of eli­gi­ble fam­i­ly mem­bers from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the For­eign Ser­vice instal­la­tion at Yoko­hama and the con­sulate at Nagoya. Such autho­riza­tions are grant­ed for 30 days, Lapan said.

The autho­riza­tion applies to Yoko­ta Air Base, Naval Air Facil­i­ty Atsu­gi, Mis­awa Air Base, Camp Zama, Yoko­su­ka Naval Base and oth­ers, he said. “The Depart­ment of State is work­ing with the air­lines on com­mer­cial and char­ter air­craft,” Lapan said. “If need­ed, we could use U.S. mil­i­tary resources both for the mil­i­tary depen­dent move­ment as well as some of the Amer­i­can cit­i­zen move­ment.”

Poten­tial trav­el­ers could num­ber in the thou­sands, depend­ing on the num­ber of mil­i­tary fam­i­ly mem­bers who choose to leave, the colonel added.

Although the Unit­ed States is the des­ig­nat­ed safe haven, the autho­riza­tion pro­vides for a tem­po­rary stag­ing stop in South Korea, where U.S. Forces Korea is prepar­ing to pro­vide tem­po­rary acco­mo­da­tions until trav­el­ers who pass through there move on to oth­er loca­tions, the colonel added.

Lapan also detailed Defense Depart­ment assis­tance to Japan from the U.S. North­ern Com­mand, based at Peter­son Air Force Base in Col­orado Springs, Colo., and ongo­ing assis­tance from U.S. Navy ships in the region.

A nine-mem­ber expert plan­ning team from North­com was sched­uled to arrive in Japan today, Lapan said.

“The team will pro­vide tech­ni­cal advice on chem­i­cal, bio­log­i­cal, radi­o­log­i­cal, nuclear and haz­ardous mate­r­i­al, as well as med­ical and logis­ti­cal [sup­port],” he said. “They will report to the com­man­der of U.S. Forces Japan and work close­ly with the Japan­ese mil­i­tary to eval­u­ate and assess whether more U.S. help is need­ed.”

As a pre­cau­tion­ary step for U.S. ser­vice mem­bers, Lapan said, the Defense Depart­ment is mov­ing sup­plies of potas­si­um iodide and pos­si­bly oth­er com­pounds from the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States in case they are need­ed. Potas­si­um iodide is used in radi­a­tion emer­gen­cies to help in pro­tect­ing the thy­roid gland from poi­son­ing with radioac­tive iodine, one of the prod­ucts released dur­ing a nuclear acci­dent.

U.S. ships in the region con­tin­ue to pro­vide assis­tance in the area, Lapan said.

The USS Ronald Rea­gan car­ri­er strike group con­tin­ues oper­a­tions off Honshu’s east coast, and the cruis­er USS Cow­pens can­celled its sched­uled return to Yoko­su­ka and is head­ing north to ren­dezvous with the Rea­gan.

“Rea­gan con­duct­ed three heli­copter sor­ties yes­ter­day, deliv­er­ing some 7 tons of food and water,” Lapan said. Heli­copters from oth­er ships in the strike group flew 12 sor­ties, he added, deliv­er­ing more than 8 tons of sup­plies includ­ing food, bot­tled water, milk, juice, pack­aged meals, fruits, cloth­ing, med­ical sup­plies and blan­kets.

“A total of 40 tons of aid has been deliv­ered to date,” he said.

The USS Tor­tu­ga con­tin­ues to load vehi­cles and per­son­nel from the Japan­ese Ground Self-Defense Force, which the ves­sel is sched­uled to deliv­er in Omi­na­to today, Lapan said. The Essex amphibi­ous ready group, made up of the USS Essex, the USS Harpers Fer­ry and the USS Ger­man­town, along with the 31st Marine Expe­di­tionary Unit, are oper­at­ing in the Sea of Japan, he said.

“In the com­ing days, they will take posi­tion off the west coast of Hon­shu and begin con­duct­ing dis­as­ter response oper­a­tions,” Lapan said. The USS Blue Ridge, the flag­ship for the U.S. 7th Fleet, con­tin­ues to steam north toward Yoko­su­ka, he added.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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