KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- For months, Okinawa Military Housing has worked to protect service members and families as well as their employees by providing available homes, protective equipment and enforcing social distancing wherever possible.
Providing a safe and clean home allows service members who arrive at Kadena AB to focus on their mission knowing their families are taken care of.
There are currently over 300 units prepared to support contingency housing requirements across the island and the housing office has the ability to surge and prepare more if needed.
"Ensuring homes are safe is vital to preserving our readiness," said Capt. Gregory Brady, 718th Civil Engineer Squadron housing flight commander. "In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our service members must be ready to execute in support of preserving peace in the Pacific.
Providing safe and clean homes allows them to focus on their mission.
Upon arrival, members and their families are placed into a 14-day Restriction of Movement phase where they are monitored by both their unit leadership as well as medical teams.
Many of these members begin teleworking during this time in order to be prepared for mission essential tasks once the ROM phase ends.
"To date, we have had over more than 200 personnel complete their 14-day ROM in contingency housing," Brady explained.
Beginning in February, the housing office was tasked with leaning forward to make sure there were areas and places to house members and their families who arrived at KAB and needed to be put into a ROM status.
"The first six contingency homes we used are on Kadena AB and isolated from the remainder of the base," said Senior Master Sgt. Tyhae Willocks, 718th CES, housing flight superintendent. "The location was perfect to ensure social distancing and separation from the remaining base populace. These homes already had furniture and appliances in them so it made the most sense to put members there for their ROM duration."
After the initial wave of families arrived, the housing office located an additional 30 homes which met the criteria. They immediately assigned maintenance teams to work on getting the homes up to standard quickly to accommodate projected incoming arrivals.
"The first iteration was relatively small consisting of 36 homes," Willocks said. "However, as COVID-19 evolved we saw the need to lean forward by locating and furnishing more homes for use. We expanded our capabilities and our housing maintenance and furnishing teams worked around-the-clock in order to keep members who arrive separate while they undergo their ROM. This ensures their safety as well as the rest of the base."
Additionally, the housing office implemented procedures at their facilities across Okinawa to protect employees and customers.
"We procured glass dividers and mounted them on desks to provide droplet protection for our customers and employees," Brady said. "Our furniture repair section switched from re-upholstering furniture to production of cloth masks. These masks were provided to both our employees and the rest of the 18th Wing."
Along with providing increased protective equipment, an important part of lowering the potential spread of COVID-19 is to reduce personal contact.
"We've moved to split shift operations to minimize the number of employees present in any of our facilities at any time," Brady continued. "We stopped all walk-in support and moved to appointment only as many requests do not require the customer to visit our office in person and can be addressed remotely."
These measures have reduced foot traffic in the housing office by 70% since January, according to Brady.
Additionally, led by Willocks, the housing office has held multiple Facebook live events to communicate with residents and provide customer support and service. Customers can reach out to them via Facebook messenger for quick and convenient responses to questions.
"While our Eagle Hardware stores have reduced availability, we have ensured customers still receive self-help parts and have a volunteer-based delivery system which is more convenient and safer for residents," Brady said.
According to Brady, to support Okinawa-wide requirements, the 718th CES surveyed all of the vacant houses on the island primarily looking at houses under construction or renovation.
The 718th CES oversees a $1.4B military family housing construction program to support the Air Force's efforts to revitalize Military Family Housing on Okinawa.
"Many of these homes had minor maintenance requirements so our inspectors and maintenance teams did a full survey of all the homes, addressed the minor repair requirements, cleaned the houses, and delivered furniture," Brady explained. "The 718th Force Support Squadron provided linens to ensure service members can arrive at a home that is ready for a family to live in."
The goal is at least 500 houses ready and available to be used as contingency homes. Additionally, the housing office has a plan for well over 800 homes to be available in the coming months if required.
"As Okinawa Military Housing we are responsible for every Department of Defense service member and family on the island," Willocks said. "So we decided to carve out a section on each installation that can accommodate members and their families. This provides each camp or base the opportunity and ability to have their own contingency housing."
One of the largest efforts was on U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Kinser where an apartment tower renovation was completed just in time for use as contingency housing.
"When the tower on Camp Kinser became available it gave us the option to outfit the entire tower with appliances and furniture, then hand it over to the camp leadership so they have the ability to isolate and ROM members as needed," Willocks stated.
Despite the suitable temporary living conditions, the housing office wants to be able to provide members with homes.
"Our biggest focus now is catching members who come off of ROM so they are able to be immediately moved into permanent homes," said Willocks. "Doing this helps the members and their families better adjust to living and working here. The uncertainty of the situation can cause more stress for these members, so we work hard to ensure they are aware of their options and are able to get a permanent home quickly."