Home PCS When Mother Nature Interferes with a Military Move to Japan

When Mother Nature Interferes with a Military Move to Japan


We were anxiously awaiting our orders to Tokyo, Japan and finally the day arrived, but to our surprise (shock actually!) we got orders to Yokosuka Naval Base! I looked on a map and discovered that it’s about 45 miles south of Tokyo… close enough I guess! We were excited about our move until a month later when catastrophe struck: Japan’s Pacific coast was hit with an Earthquake and Tsunami. I found myself being inundated with the news and trying to discover any information about the base I could find.

Many people from base decided to evacuate and from what I’ve heard, it was utter chaos. Sailors and Marines were serving with Operation Tomodachi while their own families were left scrambling alone, busy with decisions hinging on staying or preparing to evacuate. Back in California, we were on hold along with all the other families that had orders to mainland Japan. I had already quit my job and trained my replacement… our household goods (HHG) were packed up and both shipments (express and household goods) were en route to storage. As a side note, since we received orders to mainland Japan, we were allowed 100% of our weight, instead of the fraction that is allowed for orders to Okinawa or Iwakuni.

Super Typhoons have been hitting Marine Corps bases in Japan hard the last 2 months (high PCS season). A third category 5 storm is on its way to Japan, scheduled to hit this weekend. This is the fourth Typhoon in two months,.

We planned on spending a month in Chicago reuniting and visiting family and friends, but ended up with an extended trip, relying upon our family’s hospitality until we were good to go. Fortunately, it was only a few more weeks than we had originally anticipated. We arrived in Yokosuka in May of 2011 for our first overseas tour. Little did we know, I was pregnant and in my 2nd trimester! I hadn’t had any morning sickness and completely missed the signs until one evening — I just had a feeling.

We were still living in the Navy Lodge and visiting the housing office daily, or so it seemed. We had a choice of living on the main base, living in Ikego (about a 20 minute drive from base) or Negishi which is near Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. After everything that had happened, we felt that Yoko was the best and most convenient for us. We knew my husband was going to be on ship duty, so he would be gone about six months out of the year.

We received housing much quicker than anticipated due to the mass evacuation of families. Housing relayed the evacuation process to us: if a family wanted to evacuate and had orders to move out of Yokosuka within sixty days, they could not come back on the Navy’s dime. Workers simply packed up and shipped any remaining goods left to their next destination. Some of the families who evacuated returned home to refrigerators full of food gone bad and were left to clean up. If the Sailor or Marine came home while the family was gone, they did their best to fix the disarray from the emergency. This all resulted in pack outs being completed sooner with housing turnovers moving faster than normal.

Photo courtesy of The Hindu, destruction after a Typhoon in Japan.

The base was pretty quiet when we first arrived. I learned this was due to several reasons: Normally many families travel or go stateside for weeks at a time in the summer, but since many families had already evacuated, they took advantage and turned it into a vacation. Additionally, many of these same family members were employed on base, so the base had to alter their hours of operation due to the loss of employees. The CDC (Child Development Center) has two facilities on main side and still has not fully recovered from losing their trained employees. They ended up closing one of the CDC locations and took advantage to restructure before re-opening. Lastly, the base’s two largest ships, the “G-dub” (USS George Washington) and the USS Blue Ridge were underway with a large population of service members.

Other indicators that disaster struck, was that the NEX (Navy Exchange) had temporarily stopped receiving shipments, their stock had been exhausted and was in the process of being rebuilt. It was difficult to find the simplest of items. The commissary had signs posted which indicated whether or not the produce was coming from stateside, or if it was locally grown and tested (remember everyone feared radiation), which was a little scary or reassuring, depending on how you looked at it.

All and all, we have been fortunate since arriving: our HHG arrived the week we received our keys, but unlucky for the hubby, I couldn’t help with carrying heavy boxes or furniture due to the pregnancy. I kept myself plenty busy running after our very energetic eighteen month old. Six months later our bundle of joy was delivered – made in America, assembled in Japan!

Since then, we’ve experienced several earthquakes, tremors and typhoons. Most of the earthquakes have been mild, but we’ve had a couple stronger ones where the blinds were seriously shaking and rattling. Where we live on Tokyo Bay, most of the typhoons have fizzled out before hitting us hard, but there were nights I slept with the kids because I WAS SCARED of the wind and rain. I admit it; I’m terrible at being prepared for natural disasters. We received the list of things to keep on hand, things to do, and still, I can’t get it together. The one thing I do remember to do is keep my fridge and freezer colder, probably because there isn’t any purchasing or storing involved.

Has Mother Nature ever affected your orders? What’s the most unexpected thing that has happened to you while PCS’ing?

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  1. Hi,

    We were stationed in Iwakuni for 9 years all together. From 1984-1987, 1990-1993 and 1995-1998. My husband retired from Iwakuni. It is the best duty station in the Marine Corps. I had to medivac every 4-6 months to Yokosuka Naval Hospital for steroid injections in my spine. I have to say, Iwakuni is a much prettier and peaceful place to live. There are country drives one can take and it is beautiful. I taught conversational English each tour for Gakken Corporation. We miss it a lot.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing; I’m always happy to hear of others that have fond memories of Japan. We have really enjoyed our time here and know that it is unlikely we’ll be coming back, being that it is a Naval base. I’m going to miss Japan so much once we leave that I think I will always have Iwakuni or Okinawa on my short list when the hubby asks, “where should we go next?”!


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