Yokota Air Base, Japan --
It had been raining for a month on mainland Japan when the flight carrying military members and their families from Seattle pulled into the Yokota Air Base Passenger Terminal.
It wasn’t the type of rain that was likely to cause a flood, but it was just enough to warrant an umbrella and muffle all the normal ambient sounds people tend to tune out in daily life.
The pitter patter of rain on tarp covers was punctuated by the sharp splashes of boots in puddles as an aircraft unloaded its passengers into the temporary outbound terminal while it was refueled and restocked.
Few people seemed interested in small talk through facemasks after 12 hours in such tight quarters. A food truck pulled up on the flight line in front of the terminal doors and began to prepare to serve their new customers.
Next door, the original terminal building hid construction with a white wall covering its full perimeter.
Buildings inevitably get older, equipment wears out and there’s no way to prevent it. Logic would dictate that, at some point, the Yokota PAX terminal would need a remodel. With a mission that never stops, the burden of finding out how to relocate an essential service into a temporary stand-in with little to no impact to mission effectiveness falls on the passenger terminal leadership.
“We knew the construction was going to happen,” said Senior Airman James Bullard, 730th Air Mobility Squadron passenger agent. “Then COVID hit and we had to change our plans. We’ve had to grow with the terminal.”
The terminal began remodeling their main building and setting up a temporary structure right before COVID-19 rocked the world, complicating everything. The two-year construction project is well underway, and the Airmen at the 730th are now operating fully out of their three temporary structures built next to the original terminal building.
The three buildings are the outbound gate, inbound gate and main terminal. They’re separate structures with no simultaneous cross-traffic.
Sheltering from the rain, this group waited in the outbound terminal until their aircraft was ready to take them to their next destination.
If they were leaving Yokota, they would check themselves and their luggage in at the main terminal before heading to the outbound terminal to be staged for boarding the aircraft.
Members whose final destination is Yokota are kept to the inbound gate only. Here, they receive their welcome briefs and COVID-19 screening before they are funneled straight to their restriction of movement location with no personal contact with sponsors or units.
“In the old terminal, we could wave people over to talk with them,” said Airman 1st Class Emmanuel Romero 730th AMS passenger service agent. “[In this temporary terminal] we have to communicate through radio, because we’re all in separate buildings.”
Coordinating the movement from one building to the next while eliminating contact between inbound and outbound groups and maintaining efficient movement was a tall order. However, with two years projected in the temporary lodging, it needed to be taken care of.
“We’re about at the 90-day mark of being in this facility,” , Master Sgt. Steven Bazar, 730th AMS passenger services NCOIC. “So now is a really good time to assess our processes and see how we’ve been doing. Every day we’re looking at how we can better our processes, so please send us ICE comments, we take them seriously.”
In the short time they’ve been at the temporary location, they've identified several issues inhibiting efficient workflow and dealt with them. The most recent example of this is the new loading dock they’ve built into the back of the main terminal to streamline baggage flow to outbound aircraft.
Perhaps the best test of the temporary facilities’ organization is happening now, with more than 1,000 passengers transiting through the Yokota PAX terminal a week as the Air Force catches up from its two-month stop movement.
If passengers are headed to an overseas Pacific location, chances are good that they’ll come through the Yokota temporary terminal.
When they do, the 730th AMS will be ready for them.