FORT MCCLELLAN, Ala. - Soldiers of the 167th Theater Sustainment Command of the Alabama National Guard made a quick switch from participating in a routine training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Ind., to being a part of a real-world event in various locations throughout the U.S.
The 167th TSC, which consists of both active duty Army and National Guard members, recently joined the mission to assist Department of Defense and U.S. military families living in specified areas of Japan to get home.
The 167th TSC reacted immediately when they were called to assist in Operation Pacific Passage.
"We got the call and started planning March 19, and we got our first team of 14 personnel deployed out of Camp Atterbury the same day," said Army Lt. Col. Keith Calhoun, deputy operations officer for the 167th TSC.
The Department of Defense issued a voluntary authorized departure for families of DoD civilians and U.S. service members living in Japan to come back to the U.S. This precaution was taken due to the conditions in Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
"What we needed to do was set up reception centers to help process them in, get them through customs, brief them and help them get tickets to their final destinations," said Army Maj. Gen. Joe Harkey, commanding general of the 167th TSC.
The 167th TSC did just that. Joint Reception Coordination Centers are now established at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and the Denver International Airport. Their goal is to make the in-processing as smooth as possible for the arriving families.
The JRCC's roles include: assisting families with necessary paperwork, arranging temporary lodging and getting tickets to their final destinations.
The JRCCs are also providing food, children's activities and representatives from the offices of the Judge Advocate General, the chaplain, finance and other areas to answer any questions the families may have.
"We are doing everything we can to assist the families that have voluntarily come back to the U.S. from Japan," Calhoun said.
OPP is a joint-forces effort among the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and the National Guard. There is a civilian workforce that is providing logistics support, building maintenance and security for the facility as well as a number of volunteer organizations that are present.
The Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Services Organization and the Soldiers Airmen Relief Fund are volunteering time and resources to assist families. They are providing items such as soap, toothpaste, food and fluids.
The 167th TSC participates in approximately three national exercises per year, Calhoun said. These exercises, like the one the 167th was a part of at Camp Atterbury, train the Soldiers to proficiently perform their jobs when called upon.
"We do the same types of functions in what we call the JRSOI (Joint, Reception, Staging, Onward-movement and Integration) for forces," Harkey said. "The exercises fit hand in glove with what we are doing, but instead of doing it for an Army unit, we're doing it for DoD civilian personnel."
The fluidity of the process proves that a "train as you fight" mentality pays off.
The JRCCs also keep track of the incoming persons so that if family members have lost touch with one another during the trip, the JRCC can assist in getting those people back in touch.
"They just experienced a catastrophic event," Calhoun said. "So, we're taking the time to bring them in and assist them in getting to their next destination as quickly and easily as possible."