Airline workers assist a passenger at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo on November 10, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa / Stars and Stripes)
TOKYO – Nurse Tami Austin temporarily left her family in Okinawa to work in the States to help COVID-19 patients recover from their attacks with coronavirus respiratory disease.
With her contract ending Dec. 18, Austin, 40, is looking forward to returning home with her husband, the Marine Corps Master Sergeant. Roland Austin, 41, and his two children.
The problem, he said, is that Japan’s coronavirus restrictions, which members of the U.S. military community are required to observe, add considerable cost and uncertainty to their return travel plans.
That is about to change for members of the service, Department of Defense employees and their families under the options for vaccinated travelers announced Wednesday by U.S. forces in Japan.
“It’s not so much the exit, it’s the return piece, and the [restriction of movement] requirement once you return to Japan, this has made returning home to the States a challenge, “U.S. Forces spokeswoman for Japan, Lt. Col. Brooke Brander, told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.
A Japan Airlines flight lands at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo on November 10, 2021. (Akifumi Ishikawa / Stars and Stripes)
Some details on how travelers can take advantage of these options were not immediately available. Brander said the information is being sent to unit commanders, who should be the first stop for anyone making holiday travel plans.
“Talk to your chain of command,” he said. “Work with your command”.
The first option, the funded environmental morale permit, applies to Okinawa, a special challenge because returning travelers can only enter airports in the Tokyo area and have to complete a 10-day quarantine before taking a flight. commercial in Okinawa.
The Pentagon on Friday approved an exception to its pandemic travel policy to allow eligible travelers covered by the agreement on the state of forces to fly aboard the Seattle Patriot Express in Naha. They would serve their 10-day quarantine at home instead of paying for accommodation in Tokyo.
Austin said hard-to-get reservations at Kanto Lodge at Yokota Air Base, west of downtown, cost $ 110 a day.
Okinawa required a special approach, Brander said, because most U.S. forces in Japan are stationed there, along with their families.
Lernes Hebert, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, approved the exception on Friday under a provision of the Pentagon’s policy of freedom and permission that allows government-funded travel from service positions “that are really isolated, austere or unhealthy … “.
Eligible travelers must travel a minimum of two years to their office locations and are only allowed one trip with morale permit, according to the DOD permit policy. Traveling family members must be sponsored by the command.
“It was a lot of work” by the individual service branches, USFJ and Indo-Pacific Command to get approval for the exception, Brander said. “And we were excited when the Secretary of Defense approved it.”
The second option, an exception to USFJ policy, allows eligible travelers on international commercial flights arriving at airports in the Tokyo area to travel to their final destinations in Japan, including Okinawa and other northern facilities. Americans in the country, after spending a minimum of three days in ROM. They must finish quarantine at their home station.
Eligible travelers could continue on a commercial plane, rail or bus, as long as they have an assigned seat, Brander said. This works for those returning to destinations such as Misawa Air Base or Sasebo Naval Base, for example, as well as Okinawa.
USFJ commander Lt. Gen. Ricky Rupp approved the second option Tuesday evening, with the consent of the Japanese government, Brander said.
The “big thing,” he said, is that the individual traveler must request an exception to his command’s policy and approve it before arriving in Japan.
“You should only do a ROM in the Tokyo, Yokota or Fuji Camp area for Marines, for three days, and if your policy exception is approved on day four, you could take a domestic flight back home, for example, Okinawa, “she said.
Finally, a third option, a 30-day trial program that began Nov. 12, allows eligible SOFA travelers arriving in Tokyo to continue by commercial plane to Okinawa after a wait of at least eight hours between arrivals. and the exit.
Austin, the traveling nurse, said she hopes to find a seat on the test program, the Okinawa Home Connection Program, a Marine Corps effort in Okinawa. It comes with limitations.
The program only accommodates five passengers on one flight per day, Monday through Friday only, according to a copy of the program provided by Austin. Brander confirmed the program.
Only travelers arriving at Haneda Airport with an international flight and departing for Naha, Okinawa are eligible. Airline seats must be reserved through the program. Deadlines apply.
All options adhere to the COVID-19 pre-trip testing regime that is already in place and are only available to vaccinated travelers or unvaccinated dependent minors traveling with their guardians.
Service offices are “working diligently” to ensure an orderly process, Brander said. “I think there will be interest. People want to go home.”