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Military family members arrive
Military family members arriving from Japan begin inprocessing in Denver March 24. Family members who voluntarily evacuated from Japan due to the recent natural disasters have arrived to different locations across the country in the past few weeks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Paul Labbe)
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A&FRC supporting Japan earthquake, tsunami evacuees

Posted 4/21/2011   Updated 4/21/2011 Email story   Print story


by Sarah Olaciregui
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

4/21/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- More than one month after disaster struck Japan, Hanscom's Airman and Family Readiness Center is helping Air Force family members on voluntary authorized departure orders.

More than 7,800 family members stationed at U.S. military bases throughout Japan were flown to various U.S. locations following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the tsunami it caused and subsequent problems with several of Japan's nuclear reactors, according to the Air Force's web page at www.af.mil/japandisasterrelief.

Staff at the center have been assisting a number of families for the past several weeks, making sure they have the housing, finances and medical support they need during their temporary stay.

"The Air Force has been tracking evacuations through AFPAAS - the Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System," said Master Sgt. Ray Merring, Family Readiness coordinator at the A&FRC. "Once personnel have been entered into the system, cases are assigned to Airman and Family Readiness Centers across the United States."

Through AFPAAS, Hanscom was assigned to work 20 cases. Anne Wilson, Hanscom's Supervisory Work/Life consultant, serves as the base's AFPAAS lead case manager and assigns the cases to staff members at the A&FRC. In addition to Ms. Wilson and Sergeant Merring, those assisting include Dawn Andreucci, Dan Mazzuca, Judy Tipton, Kathy Vaillancourt and Terri O'Keefe.

"Most of the families assigned to Hanscom are staying in the New England and New York region," said Sergeant Merring. "We have been in contact with all of them and helping them with whatever they need."

Sergeant Merring has been assigned to work with six families. His first step upon assignment was to contact them and conduct a questionnaire.

"The questionnaire goes over everything," he said. "I ask them about Tricare, where they are staying, if they need help with finances, schools, doctor appointments, employment, child care and about anything else you can think of."

He has also been working with the Tricare and Finance offices here to help answer any questions the families may have. For example, the Finance Office has assigned an Airman specifically to help these Air Force family members.

"The main thing I want them to know is that I care about them," Sergeant Merring said. "A lot of times I can hear the stress in their voice. I put myself in their place. I ask them to tell their spouse I have contacted them. I want to make sure their spouse's mind is on the mission and not worrying about their families."

Sergeant Merring said that many families left Japan with only one suitcase. They were also given a folder of information before they left for the United States and many are still trying to figure out what steps to take.

"The families are receiving per diem during their time here," he said. "Just like with a TDY, the family members can fill out a travel voucher every 30 days. Our Finance Office can help with that, too. Airman (1st Class Katherine) Castano has been helping process travel vouchers and answering any finance-specific questions."

Virginia Baines was one such family member that worked with Hanscom's A&FRC. She left Misawa Air Base, Japan, arrived here March 23 and has been staying with her parents in the local area.

"The whole experience has been a little overwhelming, but as smooth as it possibly could be," she said. "Every step of the way, someone has been there to help out."

Ms. Baines' first stop upon arriving to the United States was Seattle.

"The USO there was wonderful," she said. "They had water to give to us, counselors to talk to and everything to make the transition as easy as possible."

Soon after arriving in Massachusetts, Ms. Baines received a call from Ms. Wilson.

"We went over the questionnaire and she made sure I had everything I needed," she said. "But, after she was finished with the questionnaire, she asked me how I was doing. It was just so nice to know someone was there looking out for me."

Ms. Baines says it's been good to know she is not just some number and there are people around that are receptive to her needs. She hopes to return to her husband in about a week or so.

Families will soon begin to return to Japan since the Department of Defense voluntary authorized departures for service members' eligible family members was lifted April 18.

"I'll stay in contact with the families to make sure they are set to return," said Sergeant Merring. "Every office has different resources for these displaced families, but the A&FRC brings it all together."

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