U.S. military in Okinawa announces end to government-funded morale leave flights

Marines wait inside the passenger terminal at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, June 6, 2020. (Karis Mattingly/US Marine Corps)

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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Members of the U.S. military population of Okinawa have just over a month to squeeze in a government-funded morale flight to the continental United States.

The Funded Environmental and Morale Leave, or FEML, program is set to expire Aug. 1, according to an announcement Tuesday by the III Marine Expeditionary Force. Approved travel scheduled through July 31 is unaffected, including return travel after that date, according to the email from III MEF spokesperson Captain Gabriel Adibe.

He said eligible travelers can still apply for moral leave, but people intending to use FEML should contact officials approving them to make reservations and seek additional guidance.

Japan ended its post-travel quarantine requirements for anyone under the status of forces agreement on June 1, according to Adibe’s email. This removed the reason FEML was approved in November. Travelers entering Japan must still take a molecular test for COVID-19, usually a PCR test, 72 hours before beginning their international journey, according to III MEF.

The Pentagon has approved funded moral leave from Okinawa to ease the cost of quarantine in Tokyo during the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign travelers, including SOFA members, were required to enter the country through Tokyo and complete a 10-day quarantine in the metropolitan area before traveling to their destination. SOFA outlines the rights and responsibilities of the US military population in Japan.

The costs of quarantine accommodation and travel to Okinawa have added up for military travelers who already face nearly two years of pandemic life in the island prefecture.

FEML opened the Patriot Express for service members, Department of Defense civilians and their families with flights between Seattle and Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. The Patriot Express is a scheduled, government-contracted flight between the United States and overseas military bases. Returning travelers were able to quarantine at home in Okinawa.

Restrictions apply to the funded leave program. Eligible travelers can take moral leave and must have been with Okinawa for at least two years, including consecutive one-year assignments.

Moral leave falls under a provision of the Pentagon’s Leave and Liberty Policy that allows government-funded travel from “truly isolated, austere, or unsanitary workplaces…”

More than 6,000 military and civilians have used the program through May, according to Adibe’s email. The flights, which are listed online, were often fully booked.

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