Task Force Permanent Change of Station personnel receive awards from MCIPAC’s top leaders

U.S. Marines with Task Force Permanent Change of Station (TF PCS) and Marine Corps Community Service staff (MCCS), pose for a photo after presented with awards for their successful support in the island-wide COVID-19 mitigation effort, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 30, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Karis Mattingly)
U.S. Marines with Task Force Permanent Change of Station (TF PCS) and Marine Corps Community Service staff (MCCS), pose for a photo after presented with awards for their successful support in the island-wide COVID-19 mitigation effort, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Oct. 30, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Karis Mattingly)

Task Force Permanent Change of Station personnel receive awards from MCIPAC’s top leaders

by Cpl. Karis Mattingly
U.S. Marine Corps

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Marines and civilians stood socially distanced in a COVID-19 friendly formation to be recognized by MCIPAC’s top leaders for their efforts in what was described as the most challenging Permanent Change of Station season to date.

Task Force PCS was officially deactivated on Oct. 31, which was capped off by awarding several Marines and civilians the Navy Commendation and Achievement medals, as well as Civilian Service Commendation Medals. The 24/7 operational task force was a combined III Marine Expeditionary Force-Marine Corps Installation Pacific effort to support service members and families by ensuring their arrival to Okinawa went as smoothly as possible during Okinawa’s peak PCS season.

“We could not have done this without the whole MCIPAC team,” said Brig. Gen. William Bowers, commanding general, of MCIPAC. “The success is truly indicative of the team effort and leadership of the Marines and Marine Corps Community Services staff.”

During this period, TF PCS directly assisted more than 5,000 inbound personnel, all while remaining compliant with several U.S Forces Japan and the Government of Japan's COVID-19 mitigation requirements.

“As a service, we were meeting GOJ and USFJ requirements for COVID mitigation such as restriction of movement and later on, exit-ROM testing,” explained Maj. Sara Kirstein, the TF PCS officer-in-charge. “The TF PCS Marines on duty in the transient lodging facilities were conducting 24/7 operations in direct vicinity of the ROM travelers, providing a touchpoint for all families there to assist with meals, sponsors, and medical transportation. All activities outside of the rooms were scheduled by these Marines, from PT to laundry.”

DoD Stop Movement

On March 13, 2020, the Department of Defense released a stop movement memorandum for all domestic travel for DoD components in response to the Coronavirus disease global outbreak.

The memo stated that these restrictions were put into place to preserve force readiness, limit the spread of COVID-19, and preserve the health and welfare of service members and their families. The only exceptions to the memorandum’s policy were travel categorized under mission essential, necessary for humanitarian reasons, or warranted due to extreme hardship. Even exceptions to policy were carefully analyzed and approval authorized - at a minimum - to the first general-level officer in the member’s chain of command.

In Okinawa, Japan, many guidelines beyond the core fundamentals of hand-washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing, were implemented to mitigate the transmission associated with COVID-19. Policies such as mandatory telework, establishments temporarily closing, reduced services, and off-base liberty were just a few notable COVID-19 mitigation guidelines implemented.

The dynamic COVID-19 environment left many of Okinawa’s top leaders tirelessly calculating the various complex formulas associated with PCS movements, thus including transient lodging for member’s in restriction of movement and transportation for members coming off the Patriot Express – all while balancing troops outbound versus troops inbound.

COVID-19 Response and Mitigation

In response to COVID-19, centralized response centers began standing up all across the island, including the Marine Corps Installations Pacific COVID-19 response cell. This was one of the first COVID-19 response cells that later paved the way for other efforts such as Task Force Safeguard and Task Force Permanent Change of Station.

TF PCS was composed of dedicated Marines from all across III MEF. From Camp Schwab to Camp Kinser and MCCS to the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, Marines and staff, who were subject matter experts in their fields, contributed their time and effort to COVID-19 mitigation during PCS season.

“TLF duty desk included two Marines providing a 24/7 touchpoint for travelers, sponsors, and any other necessary support or delivery personnel,” explained Kirstein. “Marines were in charge of answering phones, driving travelers to the hospital for non-emergency medical treatment, and preparing for incoming flights. They worked in the Base Emergency Operation Center preparing for evening flights, taking the travelers' information from their sponsors and unit representatives directly to the passengers upon arrival. The initial process oftentimes lasted past midnight and later depending on delayed flights.”

Kirstein also commended all the key players that ensured the success of PCS movements in a complex COVID-19 environment.

“The Marines were consistently going above and beyond to take care of passengers; there was never a single complaint about having to stay late, and the Marines were always at work on time, taking everything in stride and being courteous to tired passengers, patiently explaining the process in order to get the necessary information,” said Kirstein. “The travelers were always the first priority, the commands were second, and the TF PCS Marines put themselves last, consistently.”

TF PCS assisted in 45 Patriot Express flights, as opposed to the normal amount of 18 during more conventional PCS periods. In addition, they processed nearly 6,000 travelers, had zero uncontained COVID results, housed TLF guests, and conducted 4,636 hours of physical training for Marines in restriction of movement.

“The MCCS staff, MCIPAC Headquarters and Support Battalion Joint Reception Center, TF Safeguard and most importantly the personnel and families arriving contributed to the success of the operation through their consistent diligence, understanding, and self-discipline,” said Kirstein.

MCCS staff and the TF PCS ensured all necessary needs like food and supplies were provided to Marines, Sailors, civilians and family members traveling to Okinawa, while executing their period of restriction of movement.

According to Kirstein, TF PCS received support from commands, sponsors, Chaplains, MCCS staff and families. The military community also contributed by volunteering and sorting through donations provided to families in ROM. The donations included art supplies, toys, games and books to welcome new arrivals to Okinawa.

During ROM, Marines were able to do laundry and conduct physical training. Due to the ROM guidelines practiced to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it resulted in zero uncontained positive COVID-19 cases.

Recognition and the Way Forward

“Thank you Marines and MCCS staff for a job well done,” said Bowers, as he addressed the awardees and attendants of the ceremony. “It is so great to be a part of this team.”

The peak PCS season has officially ended. As of Nov. 1, the WestPac Lodge will house both ROM and non-ROM personnel, however, they will be separated. All of the external ROM locations will be closed down, and or, have stricter guidelines for use.

“COVID mitigation was essential to protect the health of our military force, which was successful through individual discipline, community support and guidance, and adherence to orders and regulations,” said Kirstein. “By being diligent and deliberate in our actions, we were able to demonstrate our strong commitment to the local community. With zero uncontained spread from inbound travelers this season, I think it's clear that the Marines of Task Force PCS understood the importance of these requirements and took them to heart. I am beyond proud to have had the opportunity to lead this incredible team.”

Marine Corps Installation Pacific still holds true that the health and safety of its personnel, families and host-nation partners remain a top priority.

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Japan
Stripes Korea
Stripes Guam


Recommended Content

Around the Web