U.S. Government: Please Keep the Entire Family Intact During Japanese EvacuationsPosted by William Rivas-Rivas, ALDF Development Director and former Lieutenant (Junior Grade), Surface Warfare Officer, United States Naval Reserve on March 18, 2011
This June will mark twenty years since I was stationed on board the USS Arkansas (CGN-41) and took part in the emergency evacuation of military families from Clark Air Force base and Subic Bay Naval Station due to the numerous and massive volcanic eruptions of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
It was the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, ten times larger than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. I clearly remember staring into the sky and seeing a giant cloud of ash rising miles into the sky. The volcanic eruptions eventually killed hundreds of people and left tens of thousands of people homeless.
For several days, tons of volcanic ash pummeled our ship and accumulated to several feet in thickness. There was complete darkness and we all wondered if we would get out alive. At the first sign of light and no more falling ash, the entire ship’s crew shoveled 500 tons of ash from our ship using shovels and our hands for hours and hours. The ship was declared sea worthy and ready to evacuate survivors.
We made two round trips from Subic Bay to Cebu and evacuated 500 exhausted but appreciative survivors. It was a source of pride for the sailors of the USS Arkansas that our ship was the first one to evacuate survivors. The operation that we kicked off would later be aptly named Operation Fiery Vigil and eventually evacuated nearly 20,000 people in total to safety.
We were also especially proud that our ship took on people’s pets too–turtles, birds, dogs and cats. Some of the sailors jokingly referred to us as “Noah’s Ark.” I saw firsthand that having their beloved pets with them, safe and sound, provided a level of comfort that was in short supply.
So I was heartbroken when I learned that the Animal Legal Defense Fund had been contacted by family members of active duty U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan who are deeply concerned that they will not be allowed to bring their companion animals with them should they choose to leave the country as part of the voluntary evacuations authorized yesterday.
ALDF has written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asking them to clarify the U.S. government’s policy on whether or not military families can bring their pets with them–or must be forced to choose between staying in harm’s way and abandoning a beloved companion.
I hope our government makes the compassionate decision to allow these military families to evacuate with their entire family–companion animals included–and avoid compounding the already-heartrending circumstances for these military families.