If you didn’t read last week’s blog, it may be worth a few minutes of your time because it gives some background and context to this week’s.
I came from a very fun, very loving family. My parent’s loved each other and loved their kids. I can’t think of two people who would do more for their children than my parents did for us. My dad worked in corporate America, and my mom was a nurse. They also always had side-gigs, and they worked tirelessly to give us a good life. When I was a kid, money was always tight. I remember that most of my parent’s arguments had to do with money. We would want something; money would be tight; mom and dad would have heated discussions, and if what we wanted was important enough, mom would bounce a check or pull out a credit card, and dad would figure out how to pay it back. He always figured out a way to pay it back. Now, don’t get me wrong, mom didn’t pull the check-bouncing stunt very often, but she did it when she needed to take care of us. She always seemed to know when it would be worth the fight because every time she did it, you better believe that dad wasn’t going to be happy. (Note: the arguments didn’t last long. By Saturday night, they were off dancing again.)
I share this background because I get the “money is tight,” or “we just can’t afford it” principle. Many of my childhood memories have these words tied closely to the memory, and because I grew up in that environment, I can respect the constraints of a budget.
Military leadership on Okinawa requested Funded Environmental Morale Leave a while back and the request was rejected. I have to assume that money was probably the reason. There are five pages of places that have FEML in place, and Okinawa made the list in November 2019. Mr. Lernes Hebert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, approved the exception on November 19, 2021 under a provision in the Pentagon’s leave and liberty policy that permits government-funded travel from duty locations “that are truly isolated, austere or unhealthful …” https://www.stripes.com/covid/2021-11-24/us-military-japan-okinawa-pandemic-travel-3737848.html
(Note: The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy supports Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness as the proponent for all military personnel policies and programs regarding recruiting, retention, compensation, travel and related human resources support for 2.1 million active and reserve service members.) https://prhome.defense.gov/M-RA/Inside-M-RA/MPP/About/
I can’t go into what it took for FEML to be granted to the service members and their families on Okinawa. Quite honestly, I didn’t want to ask some of the people who worked tirelessly on it; I didn’t want to impose. However, I will say that this was an immense effort, and I am personally grateful for it. I bet they worked on it for almost two whole years. This is A BIG DEAL!
Have you ever been around a pressure cooker? Some people say that they can actually blow up if the pressure isn’t released when it’s at capacity. Some might say that people can be the same way. People who normally can handle a lot of pressure can only handle so much. Now at the two year mark of being on this island, where leaving is possible, but returning has felt impossible, FEML is now the release. The pressure cooker doesn’t have to blow. I will benefit from it in March, and I know other people who are benefitting from it as well, but there are families who have been here for as long as I have, and who don’t qualify because of their time remaining on the island. The people in Washington could have said yes earlier. They could have been like my mom – give the kids what they need; be ready for the fight; know that the fight is worth it. As disappointed as I am that it took so long, I’m beyond grateful for all of the people who made it possible.
If you are on the island and you meet the requirements, I encourage you to take advantage of this program. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for the people who worked so hard to make it possible. You will have to work through the command, and I know the commanders on this island will support you the best that they can. The process is much simpler than you probably think.