Security Service on hand for tsunami evacuees

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More than 140 military dependents prepare for processing through the Denver Airport.

More than 140 military dependents prepare for processing through the Denver Airport.

Why would a credit union executive from Colorado Springs willingly spend two nights at Denver International Airport?

The answer: Just in case military dependents arriving from Japan needed financial assistance. And it’s all part of the job.

As vice president of corporate communications for Security Service Federal Credit Union, which is Fort Carson’s only on-post credit union, Bruce Gillooly is the liaison between his financial institution and the military. Security Service offers emergency loans to military dependents after natural disasters, such as the March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan.

Last week, chartered planes filled with military families departed Japan for Denver, Seattle or Travis Air Force Base in California. More than 4,000 families have arrived so far as part of Operation Pacific Passage, a voluntary return from Japan.

“We have an informal agreement with the commander on the ground at DIA that if they call, 24/7, we will have our people there in two hours,” Gillooly said.

Turns out the families were better prepared financially than the Department of Defense had anticipated. Before they arrived, however, no one quite knew what to expect.

U.S. Army North has been the on-ground coordinator for handling the emergency arrivals, although it’s been a joint effort of multiple groups, including the American Red Cross, the USO, Fort Carson, Buckley AFB, U.S. Northern Command, Army Emergency Relief and the Denver airport.

“When I put the word out, we had more volunteers (among SSFCU’s employees) than we needed,” he said. They had four-person teams with mobile information technology ready to go.

The first Colorado flight of military dependents arrived March 24, with 144 passengers.

The next day, 78 more people and 12 pets arrived at 6 a.m., followed by 305 people and 14 pets at 11 a.m., said Navy Cmdr. Don Savage, public affairs officer for NorthCom.

As it happened, SSFCU’s volunteers didn’t get called on, and after officials saw that families didn’t need emergency loans, Gillooly returned to Colorado Springs.

“Our willingness to participate just gave them an extra arrow in the quiver, so to speak, in case they came across anybody who needed that level of assistance,” he said.

According to NorthCom’s Savage, many families that arrived were not able to get all their paperwork processed before leaving.

“We’re picking up here on this end whatever didn’t get done over there,” Savage said. That includes helping parents enroll their children in school, putting families on flights to their next destination, or enrolling them in Tricare, the military health care plan.

Meanwhile, government and support agencies are providing food, support and comfort items.

“In many cases, they’re exhausted and quite overwhelmed with the whole thing,” Savage said.

Volunteers were handing out blankets, small toys, stuffed animals, books, toiletries, cookies, soft drinks, water and juice. In addition, there were small, private rooms for families to have some quiet time.

Play rooms were set up for the children, and volunteers played ball with them.

“The inflatable jump-room has been very, very popular with the younger set,” Savage said.

Security Service will remain on alert until Operation Pacific Passage is finished.

“It was a learning experience for us; we’d never done it before,” Gillooly said. “If it weren’t us doing it, I’m sure the other credit unions would step up to the plate and do it.”