HomeNewsArticle Display

Military, civilian groups come together to welcome dependents home from Japan

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- The Schinder family returns to the United States during Operation Pacific Passage March 25, 2011. (From left to right) Alex, Rachael, Michael, Ethan and Olivia made their way home after the devastating earthquake and tsunami  struck Japan, March 11, 2011. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass )

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- The Schinder family returns to the United States during Operation Pacific Passage March 25, 2011. (From left to right) Alex, Rachael, Michael, Ethan and Olivia made their way home after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, March 11, 2011. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass )

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Jill Braucher can still carry a smile after a long 19 hour flight back to the United States March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has been focusing on bringing military dependent evacuee's home to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Jill Braucher can still carry a smile after a long 19 hour flight back to the United States March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has been focusing on bringing military dependent evacuee's home to the United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Will Braucher and his sister, Grace sit exhausted after a long flight back to the United States March 25, 2011. The United States has been routing planes to bring military dependent evacuee's home to the United States after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Will Braucher and his sister, Grace sit exhausted after a long flight back to the United States March 25, 2011. The United States has been routing planes to bring military dependent evacuee's home to the United States after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Jacquelyn Cowgill and her K9 companion, Todd, arrive at Denver International Airport from Misawa Air Force Base March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has allowed military dependent evacuee's and their pets to come home to the United States after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan March 11, 2011.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Jacquelyn Cowgill and her K9 companion, Todd, arrive at Denver International Airport from Misawa Air Force Base March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has allowed military dependent evacuee's and their pets to come home to the United States after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan March 11, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Lt. Col. Carrie Acree, 5th Army DCE, Ethan and Olivia Schinder spend some time together after their arrival to Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Lt. Col. Acree volunteered for Operation Pacific Passage to welcome home military dependent evacuee's from Japan and to give some exhausted mother's a bit of relief. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Lt. Col. Carrie Acree, 5th Army DCE, Ethan and Olivia Schinder spend some time together after their arrival to Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Lt. Col. Acree volunteered for Operation Pacific Passage to welcome home military dependent evacuee's from Japan and to give some exhausted mother's a bit of relief. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Nathan and Olivia Schinder sit on top of their luggage after an exhausting flight from Japan. Operation Pacific Passage has allowed military dependent evacuee's to return to the United States after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan March 11, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Nathan and Olivia Schinder sit on top of their luggage after an exhausting flight from Japan. Operation Pacific Passage has allowed military dependent evacuee's to return to the United States after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan March 11, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Lt. Commander Chad Tidwell, United States Navy Reserve, gives Ethan Schinder a piggy back ride March 25, 2011. Denver International Airport has been receiving military dependent evacuees from Japan during Operation Pacific Passage. Lt. Commander Tidwell volunteered to welcome home the evacuees and to entertain some of the children awaiting their next destination. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Lt. Commander Chad Tidwell, United States Navy Reserve, gives Ethan Schinder a piggy back ride March 25, 2011. Denver International Airport has been receiving military dependent evacuees from Japan during Operation Pacific Passage. Lt. Commander Tidwell volunteered to welcome home the evacuees and to entertain some of the children awaiting their next destination. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Military dependent evacuees step off a bus after landing at Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has allowed families to come home to the United States after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Military dependent evacuees step off a bus after landing at Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has allowed families to come home to the United States after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Peanna Wade and her daughter, Reilli, take a moment to rest after arriving to Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has been able to bring home evacuees of military dependents stationed in Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Peanna Wade and her daughter, Reilli, take a moment to rest after arriving to Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Operation Pacific Passage has been able to bring home evacuees of military dependents stationed in Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Chief Petty Officer Pat Ritchie and Ethan Schinder keep each other entertained after Ethan's arrival to Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Ethan and his family are part of the military dependent evacuee operation taking place in Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 10 of 17

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Chief Petty Officer Pat Ritchie and Ethan Schinder keep each other entertained after Ethan's arrival to Denver International Airport March 25, 2011. Ethan and his family are part of the military dependent evacuee operation taking place in Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- (From left to right) Akira Ragoschke, Dorshya Ragoschke, Fujimi Ragoschke, Seiko Siddal, and Toshi Smith volunteer as Japanese translators March 25, 2011. During Operation Pacific Passage, military and civilian personal welcome home the military dependent evacuee's from Japan. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 11 of 17

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- (From left to right) Akira Ragoschke, Dorshya Ragoschke, Fujimi Ragoschke, Seiko Siddal, and Toshi Smith volunteer as Japanese translators March 25, 2011. During Operation Pacific Passage, military and civilian personal welcome home the military dependent evacuee's from Japan. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Heather Tidwell volunteered during Operation Pacific Passage March 25, 2011. Mrs.Tidwell offered to help take care of some of the children returning home while their parents could in-process upon arriving home from Japan (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 12 of 17

Buckley Air Force Base, Colo- Heather Tidwell volunteered during Operation Pacific Passage March 25, 2011. Mrs.Tidwell offered to help take care of some of the children returning home while their parents could in-process upon arriving home from Japan (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Marcy Glass)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- TSgt Ronald Cervera from the 460th Force Support Squadron, helps the personnel processing line for Operation Pacific Passage March 23, 2011. The processing line was set up at Denver International Airport Joint Reception Coordination Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 13 of 17

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- TSgt Ronald Cervera from the 460th Force Support Squadron, helps the personnel processing line for Operation Pacific Passage March 23, 2011. The processing line was set up at Denver International Airport Joint Reception Coordination Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- Support from various branches of military help set up a processing line for Operation Pacific Passage March 23, 2011. Service members await inbound planes from Japan with family members of service members abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 14 of 17

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- Support from various branches of military help set up a processing line for Operation Pacific Passage March 23, 2011. Service members await inbound planes from Japan with family members of service members abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- Military personnel from various services work together to make Operation Pacific Passage run smoothly March 23, 2011. Personnel set up a processing line and communication capabilities for inbound families from Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 15 of 17

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- Military personnel from various services work together to make Operation Pacific Passage run smoothly March 23, 2011. Personnel set up a processing line and communication capabilities for inbound families from Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- Various military services work together in constructing an in processing line for Operation Pacific Passage, March 23, 2011. Military personnel have been stood up for a 24 hour operation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 16 of 17

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- Various military services work together in constructing an in processing line for Operation Pacific Passage, March 23, 2011. Military personnel have been stood up for a 24 hour operation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- U.S. Navy Lt. Kevin Henderson explains the procedures for the in processing line during a run through for Operation Pacific Passage, March 23, 2011. Lt. Henderson flew in from Port Hueneme, California to support the efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 17 of 17

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- U.S. Navy Lt. Kevin Henderson explains the procedures for the in processing line during a run through for Operation Pacific Passage, March 23, 2011. Lt. Henderson flew in from Port Hueneme, California to support the efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Manisha Vasquez)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Stepping off the plane with her five-week old son, Airman 1st Class Megan Pencook wasn't sure what to expect, but it sure wasn't the applause she received from the more than 200 military and civilian personnel waiting for voluntary departees from Japan in the hangar at Denver International Airport March 24.
"I thought we'd get here and there'd be a lot of people, but it would be procedural," she confessed. "I thought it would be more military style, but this is more welcoming. Everyone's smiling!"
Pencook , along with 143 other military family members, left Yokota Air Base, Japan, the day before as part of Operation Pacific Passage, a voluntary departure program put in place following the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the country March 11. Since the operation began, more than 20 flights have returned nearly 4,500 military families from Japan.
What those families have found waiting for them on their return is nothing less than a U.S. Northern Command-led coalition of military units, civilian groups and agencies intent on making the final leg of their trip home a more pleasant one.
At the Joint Repatriation Coordination Center at DIA, that coalition is led by Army Col. Marc Hutson, the Defense Coordination Officer for FEMA Region 8. His crew of more than 200 support personnel assembled from military bases all over Colorado and from as far away as San Diego, are working with civilian agencies such as the United Services Organization, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
"It's a monstrous partnership," Hutson said. "Every organization here has just bent over backwards to make this happen. It has truly been a collaborative partnership just to take care of these families, and we think of them as our own."
Kim Daye, Manager of Aviation for the City and County, said she was impressed with the way all the different groups have come together to support the departees.
"I think what has been fascinating for me has been listening to the phone calls as the coordination was happening over the last few days and the amount of detail that everybody has drilled down into and some of the technicalities of needs that would not have occurred to us," Daye said. "And then everybody scrambled and made it happen. It's been wonderful to see how everybody responded in collaboration to support this."

As well as donating the space to set up the JRCC, DIA also set up the power systems and wireless internet and worked non-stop since March 20 to set up and make sure everything stayed within airport regulations.
Half of the hangar looks like a typical military deployment processing line. Tables equipped with laptop computers, manned by Air Force and Navy finance, personnel and legal members were waiting to process the returning families and make sure they had what they needed for the next leg of their trip.
More than 80 Navy Reservists from the Navy Operational Support Unit at Buckley Air Force Base worked with members of the 460th Space Wing to get the family members processed through as efficiently as possible.
"It's been great," said Navy Capt. Leith Wimmer, NOSC Denver commanding officer. "We're partnering with Team Buckley. We've got Navy and Air Force medical supporting the families, Navy and Air Force lawyers and a clinical psychologist on board."
The other half of the hangar, however, was set up to support the children, with a bouncy castle and daycare waiting for their first customers. It wasn't long before a dodge ball game broke out.
Army Lt. Col. Carrie Acree, Defense Coordinating Element, Denver Federal Center, said that as important as it was to make sure the parents had everything they need for the rest of their trip, it was also very important to make the children more comfortable while they wait.
"For me it's about taking care of the kids," she said. "Making sure they feel comfortable while Mom or Dad goes through this process, to at least make this part of their day better."
"It's amazing to watch this with the kids because usually I'm dealing with Sailors going to the desert and bringing them home," said Petty Officer 1st Class Laurie Roods, Navy Operational Support Unit Denver. "Kids, young Navy, young Air Force... no real difference," she added with a smile.
Behind the seating area, the USO, Salvation Army and Red Cross set up tables with food, toiletries, books and games for the families. USO volunteer Hedy Margolis said it was only natural for the USO to contribute to this operation.
"This is what we do," she said. "We provide a home away from home, and it's just natural for us to be here and to reach out to our vendors and our friends and ask for stuff, stuff to eat, stuff to give away, diapers, on and on and on."
Family members weren't the only ones who had a long trip, however. Pets were allowed out to reunite with their families, eat and take a walk around the hangar.
Roods, the owner of three dogs, three cats and a chinchilla, said the pets weren't cargo, they were part of the family.
"They're stressed," she explained. "They just got off an 11-hour flight. They're separated from their families and stuffed in a kennel. So we've been taking them out and walking them and spoiling them."
The stay at DIA is only temporary, and Hutson said by the next day all the families would be home. By then, more flights will have come, and more exhausted military family members will process through, the cycle starting all over again. Hutson said helping these families is a privilege.
"These are our families," he said. "This could be my family coming back, so it's awesome for us to have the chance to do this."
Margolis, tears in her eyes, said if she could send a message to the military members left behind in Japan, she would tell them not to worry.
"We're going to take care of your family," she promised. "And the USO will do whatever it can to make them happy."
As for Pencook and her son, Adrian, she also had a message, this one for the people working to welcome them home.
"Thank you, everybody," she said. "Thank you."

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.