Blogger's note: If you haven't yet read last year's Town Hall blog post, you might want to read that first, There are some references in this post that stem directly from the information presented last year. Here is the link.
I have now attended the evening meeting. Updates are in red.
It's nice to dust off the old journalism degree and use it again... but also be able to do it on my own page so I can add the commentary that goes on in my mind as I learn of particular facts. Now, I am presenting you the facts as I saw them and heard them... and then adding my editorial comments as I see fit. You can stop reading at any time, and at no time were any animals harmed in the making of this post. I am not blogging to make life harder for anyone... I am merely doing it 1) because it entertains me and 2) the elementary school students didn't have school today so a lot of parents decided not to subject themselves and others to bored children, and chose not to come. A consultation of the school schedule would be nice for next year's town hall.
That said, the theme of the MCAS Iwakuni Town Hall meeting this year was... things have been delayed. Weather delays, construction delays... delays brought on by the discovery of a concrete World War II bunker under the old flight line being demolished. I'm just glad the bunker wasn't considered a historical treasure and that the plans for the base would have to be scrapped and started over to make way for a museum.
Base Commanding Officer Col. Boucher was at the helm again this year, and he's a very concise, personable speaker who is easy to follow. So follow I did, and here is what was said in his 30-minute report:
Please do not take pictures of the PowerPoint slides being projected.
The photojournalist in me both died a little and sat up straight with indignation, all at the same time. And then we were told it was for the security of the base. Well, I guess if ISIS wants intimate knowledge of our commissary parking lot, then we shouldn't give it to them. So, I did my patriotic duty and did not take pictures after I was asked not to. But I did get this before I was asked not to:
Yes, I know, a very exciting slide, but an important one... the base brass wants to know what needs to be fixed around here and wants you to tell them. This year, they offered contact info... yay! So, here is how you can contact people to answer questions:
ICE comments: ice.disa.mil
A note about ICE comments: BE SPECIFIC! The example given: "Awhile back my daughter got some food at Crossroads and a cockroach crawled out of it. This place is disgusting!" No contact info was given. OK, so nobody can do anything to fix your problem unless you give them specifics... date, time, vendor (was it Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc.) and your contact info so that they can ask any additional questions as necessary. They will also follow up with you to know how the problem was resolved. I have ICEd before and confirm that this is, in fact, the process. Col. Boucher also said that if you have a possible solution to the problem, please add that to your ICE comment. (Can of Raid?) So, ultimately, help them help you.
Now, this was the handout given:
|Last year's side 1|
Because our base is congested and on a small land area, a delay in one place causes delays in others. The new theater (Command Assembly Hall) was pushed back to a late 2015, which means that the old one can't be torn down yet to start on the new CDC. A delay in the commissary construction because of concrete pouring issues means that the old one can't be torn down to start on the exchange expansion, etc. So one delay leads to about 10 more.
And yes, you read that right... the new commissary opening has been delayed. We're looking at a grand opening around January 2016. But it comes with 160 parking spaces! There are only 40 at the existing commissary. The commissary will go from the current 30,900 sq. ft, to 46,000 sq. ft. and will have "greater inventory and more selection" and a "bright and inviting interior." No more specifics were given.
However, the current grocery delays due to the port strikes on the West Coast were addressed. It will be a delay of 45-60 days in shipping, although some key items are being flown over, but this is will just help a little. Iwakuni is not the only base affected: it affects all Japanese installations, including Okinawa. Nobody over here is happy, so you're not alone. No one is punishing you. As I have mentioned in a previous commissary blog post, you can special order items but they will take 8 weeks to get here, so order early and order often.
Now, on to other buildings... the tall gray building dwarfing the skate park and looking like something from a Hunger Games movie is actually the new Bachelor's Officers Quarters (BOQ). It will be three buildings with more than 330 suites, scheduled for completion this summer. The Kintai Inn expansion is the one you see next to the current Kintai Inn. It is slated to be completed in late 2015 and will offer 60 new rooms.
Behind the red torii gate, across from Crossroads Mall (which is also under some kind of construction), the construction there will be the new post office. It will have 60 parking spots (there are 24 currently), it will be two stories and have 3,000-plus boxes.
The theater, being built across the side road from the old theater, again, is slated for a late 2015 completion. It will have 1,000-plus seats, have the capability for live performances (plays, concerts), and Marine Corps Family Team Building will be housed there. The good news: The road that runs along side the theater and PMO will be open sometime between April and June this year. The road that now goes from the northside row housing to the post office area will be closed.
Although my family extended our time here by a year, my kids will still not get to attend the new schools, which are scheduled to be open for the 2016-17 school year. There will be four schools: 2 elementary, 1 junior high and 1 high school. Each of the drawings shown (that I was not allowed to take pictures of, sadly) make them look like they will be painted a light beige and will be up to three stories high. Here are the student capacities:
Elementary Current: 396
Elementary Future: 715
Junior High Current: 167
Junior High Future: 508
High School Current: 127
High School Future: 529
There is also a table at the town hall meeting where you can let the school liaison officer know if you are interested in school uniforms when the schools open in three years. It was also mentioned that pre-enrollment of students each year (even now) is incredibly important so that the correct number of teachers can be hired each year. Be sure to pre-enroll your kids if you want a reasonable class size.
Ahhhh.... the new medical clinic.... It is slated to open summer of 2017. It will not be a hospital. It will be a sort of super-clinic. It will be 4 floors, have 18 family medical exam rooms and 16 Marine-centered/aviation exam rooms. The new features will be labor and delivery, with C-section capabilities, nursery, lactation room (I'm sorry, but why do you need a whole room for this? That just sounds like there should be cows involved, stalls, hay, weird machines... at least there might not be a milk shortage on base), pediatric clinic, an increased laboratory, increased mental health, an orthodontist, and oral surgeon. It will also "leverage technology" for a better patient experience. It listed WiFi and Tricare as examples... and then the slide was changed.
Torii Pines is the name of the new housing area... named after the golf course that was removed for said housing. To rattle off some numbers for you... there are a total of 893 homes on base right now. 500-plus families live off base, 440 live in midrises, 286 live in townhouses, 130 live in three-story row houses, there are 26 duplexes and 11 single-family homes. There will be a total of 1,054 new homes once all the building is done. Also noted was that just because there is a vacant home, it doesn't mean it is available for you to move in. As you hopefully already know, housing is assigned based on rank and the number of bedrooms you are required to have due to the size of your family. And the vacant house you keep eyeing may actually be reserved in anticipation of an entire midrise being renovated. In that case, such as with building 655 right now, 44 families have to be moved elsewhere on base and that vacant house might be one of the places they go.
Timeline for housing construction:
Northside housing Phase 1 is finished. Yes, some of them have those weird white "chicken wire" fences. These will soon be replaced with something more aesthetically pleasing to Americans and, in theory, the rest of the homes will also get fences... and maybe some trees and shrubs. Since there is 5 km of it in a warehouse somewhere earmarked for the base, the white chicken wire will go somewhere where we don't have to see it every day in our yards.
655 SNCO midrise construction will start in March
1200 Playground construction should be completed in April
589 SNCO midrise should be completed in the fall
656 NCO midrise is in the contracting stage
Three SOQ/SEQs, 24 single family homes and 16 row homes will be completed in 2015
The 90-degree turn on the north side of the base that heads to the flight line is changing. It will still be a 90-degree turn, but going in a different direction to steer clear of barracks construction happening out there soon.
Veterinary services is run by the Army, with military dogs being top priority. They also are in charge of food inspections. Interesting mix of work, but if the USDA can do it, I'm sure the Army can try, too. If there are any empty kennels and you are wondering why your pet can't have one, it's because some are left in reserve for pets and service animals being treated at the vet clinic. Also, important to know: the dog kennel is run by MCCS, not the Army. And speaking of MCCS, they will remain here even after the Navy gets here. The carrier air wing from Atsugi is not bringing an admiral with them (why this matters is beyond me, but I'm OK with the lack of understanding) and MWR is not coming here. MCCS is adding a few new fun things to the lineup this year: there will be a new vehicle lift installed at the auto skills center in April, and there are sailing and kayaking lessons and rental (Yanai was mentioned...? It's actually Hikari, which is about an hour away... outdoor rec has details) and a fishing tournament March 28. To participate in the fishing, you need to take a safety and regulations class.
Friendship Day lite last year brought in an estimated 50-55,000 people. This year the Marines are teaming up with the Japanese defense force for an epic event with air show. May 3rd is that date you don't want to plan to go anywhere on base because they are expecting 200-250,000 people. Stay tuned for more info.
Then is was time for Q&A. First, Col. Boucher read questions submitted online, and subject matter experts addressed them.
1) So, this first submission was kind of a series of questions about why does MCCS practically shut down during the week of the ball, why can't units order food from anywhere else besides MCCS for their events... and some other stuff. I'm sorry... I tried to catch it all. The answers from the hospitality director were that the sheer size of the 900-meal a night transaction that has to happen several nights in a row at the gym takes a lot of manpower and resources; units can purchase food from elsewhere, they just can't bring it in to an MCCS facility (like the club, the gym, Crossroads, and just about anywhere else that can house a lot of people); and food costs are mandated by the Marine Corps. Maybe you should ICE the commandant to get an answer about the costs, then. Update: Outside food in an MCCS facility is banned in accordance with Marine Corps order for food safety purposes. But you can have a squadron function out in town. Because your safety with regard to food handling is no longer important...? Also, JDs menu is evaluated every 3-6 months and items that don't sell are removed. The weekly specials that are popular end up on the menu, so there is a constant rotation of choices. I haven't noticed this, but maybe the rest of you have.
2) When are you going to get more vegan choices at the commissary? The answer: There are already 14 frozen meals in the freezer section alone and our commissary has a limited amount of shelf space. Buddy over at the commissary will continue to try to get more vegan options. You can also order special foods, it will just take 8 weeks to get here.
3) Why do the doors going out of the exchange open automatically, but the ones going in do not? This is annoying for people with carts. The answer: We don't know but we have requested an automatic door.
4) The Blue/Red bus schedule doesn't seem to meet the needs of the Marines and sometimes the busses are at capacity during peak times and other MArines are stuck waiting at the stops. Also, a trip from the flight line to medical can take 2 or 3 hours due to the bus schedule. Is there a plan to change this? The response: Depending on the bus line, buses are scheduled to arrive every 10-15 minutes during the peak commute times and lunch time. If this does not appear to be the case, let logistics know.
5) Does the commissary and exchange accept expired coupons? (Are you kidding me? You had to send a question to the town hall for this?) Ask anyone at the commissary and they tell you - heck, I've told you.... both places take coupons that have been expired for 6 months. Which is what the powers that be patiently explained.
6) The streets near the post office, especially the temporary 4-way-stop, are dangerous. Is there a plan to change this? Yes, and it already happened. The road from north side housing that T's into the road along the post office has been moved closer to the housing office by about 50 yards. Trees have been trimmed and it is easier to see oncoming traffic. The submitter of this suggestion was thanked for bringing this to everyone's attention.
7) There are some tight turns that would benefit from mirrors. Are you planning to put mirrors in these areas. Station safety rep Rick said that yes, they are definitely open to that, but they need to know which intersections. Be specific, people, be specific.
We then had questions from the crowd... six from one woman alone:
1) The road in front of the thrift store narrows dangerously near where the three new commander houses are. Is there a plan to widen these? No. But they will look at it to see if needs to be addressed.
2) There is only one physical therapist at the clinic, which means patients sometimes don't get seen for weeks, which could be detrimental to their recovery. Is there a way to improve this? Yes. The clinic is opening more acute care appointments so people who need to be seen immediately can walk in. When the clinic comes online in 2017, there will be an occupational therapist and more physical therapy options. If you cannot get a PT appointment, go to customer relations or the appointment desk and request to speak to a nurse, who will get you seen.
3) Is there enough storage on base for the additional foods being brought in for the new commissary? Yes. The storage has increased 10 percent.
4) There have been some problems with hot water leaks in northside housing. It's taking more than 6 weeks to repair the last leak. Are there projects in place to remedy this process/problem? Yes. It's taking awhile to fix because there is a planning/quoting/ordering/delivering process in place. Also, this problem is being addressed long term for all northside housing in the coming months.
5) Is the water being tested as required? Yes.
6) The DoD came out with a report several months back, with of all the installations in the Pacific and their building problems, from mold to lack of smoke alarms to wiring. Although Iwakuni had some problems, 75% of them were fixed before the inspectors left and the rest will be completed by the required dates because the inspectors are coming back and they need to sign off. As bad as it sounds, Col. Boucher said, Iwakuni was actually the best facility in Japan. And the radon testing will happen this summer.
7) A lot of people are unhappy with the three-story row houses because the stairs are cumbersome. Can we request that no more three-story homes be built? No. These have already been approved and you can blame the people polled in 2010 for them. The Japanese government wanted to build midrises. The Americans said they didn't want midrises (with elevators!), they wanted their own homes with yards. So, this is what you got. A compromise. So be careful what you ask for. You might get two flights of narrow stairs and a white chicken wire fence around your postage-stamp yard.
8) The playground near 955 on Monzen, by the back gate, has been closed for awhile now. Are there plans to open it back up? Not really. The playground equipment was damaged, and it was under warranty so the parts arrived to fix it. However, that park will be demolished to improve the gate, so it's kind of dumb to spend the time to repair the playground. But, you know, it is the government, so if you put enough pressure on them, they might do the dumb thing after all. Give it a shot. Update: Apparently the construction at the Monzen gate is not going to happen for some time, so it may be worth it to fix the playground in the interim. it is being looked in to.
Now for the questions raised in the evening session. I am going to abbreviate the best I can without leaving out anything important. Some of these answers got lengthy, yet still didn't say anything conclusive.
1) It appears that military spouses applying for positions are not getting hired because they are military spouses and are perceived as not being in the area for long. Also the pay does not seem to be competitive, and it doesn't seem fair that spouses hired do not get the additional salary incentives that non-spouses seem to get. (I believe the spokeswoman on this one said "I am told as a spouse not to wear my husband's rank, but it appears that my husband's rank reflects negatively on my employment." In my head as I was listening: Bravo! I like it! But it's not going to change the bureaucracy, I'm sorry. Can I interest you in starting your own business? I know this great group on base who can help...) Is there anything being done to be more fair to military spouses? Response: 45% of the employees are spouses or members of a military family (teenager, etc.), so spouses are hired if they are the best qualified candidate. Pay is set by Marine Corps headquarters and each area gets a "band" of pay it can offer for each position. Iwakuni is on the lower end of the pay scale. COLA is not given to hired spouses because they already get COLA through their active duty spouse. Is it fair? No. But, life is not fair and COLA sucks right now anyway.
2) The SAC is at capacity now, what is being done to accommodate the additional residents when the Navy starts arriving in 2016? Same goes for things like swimming lessons. (I would just like to mention that this was asked by a seemingly intelligent naval spouse newly arrived in Iwakuni. Welcome to the Marine Corps, sweetheart... you're going to love how we do more with less around here.) Answer: They are adding capacity at SAC as it is warranted. What that means, I don't know. And Semper Fit assured her that no child will be turned away from activities, they just may not be offered at the exact time the family requests.
3) When will the Exchange start carrying a wider range of naval items? Answer: The exchange is resetting the military clothing department in the next month or two and will offer a wider range of blue stuff. In the meantime, ask for it to be ordered and if it is something that you need desperately, they may even Black Cat it from Sasebo for you. Please tell me if they actually follow through on this offer.
4) Is there an FAQ somewhere about how the trash/recycling is handled on base? Like, where do Cup a Soup foam cups go? Plastic? Combustable? Response: No, there isn't one now, but they will have an FAQ page somewhere soon, maybe Facebook, possibly in an upcoming article in The Preview. They never said where foam cups should go.
5) Can the kennel stay open later on Fridays so that people on the Patriot Express who have pets can actually talk to someone about the pet's care when they arrive? Maybe. They are looking in to it. Right now your sponsor can go to the kennel and request the key to the kennel your pet will be staying in, and have it for you when they pick you up at the airport. Also, the kennel is now open until 6 p.m.
6) Can the "C" gate by the school be opened just before and just after school hours to accommodate school traffic and relieve congestion at the Monzen and main gates? Answer: No. This gate does not have the required security measures. Long term solutions are being looked in to, however. The upgrades in the existing gates will make the rush hour entering and exiting more efficient, though.
7) Are we getting more preschool options? Right now it's yochien or Sure Start, which many kids don't qualify for. The CDC doesn't have qualified instructors in the rooms, so classes are more like daycare. Answer: Probably not (but that was not said.) Essentially, MCCS's HR department needs more qualified people to apply for jobs at the CDC, but, unfortunately, the pay is regulated by USMC headquarters and Iwakuni's pay, well, sucks. So what qualified individual is going to want to deal with other people's kids for $10 an hour? This goes up, by the way, incrementally when you complete certain certifications, but it's 25 cents here, $1 there. In comparison, my 12-year-old makes $10 an hour when he watches three kids and he took a one-day Red Cross class and hasn't yet completed a 7th grade education. That's insulting to anyone who is qualified to teach preschool, as far as I'm concerned. Are you listening HQMC?
8) Why are there so many speed limits on base? Do we need that many? Answer: No. PMO and logistics and whoever else gets to have a say in this is looking in to streamlining these now, hopefully making just three speed limits, one each for commercial, residential and industrial. I vote for whichever one of those is faster.
9) Will there be a cry room in the new theater? Answer: No. But there will be monitors in the lobby/refreshment area so that you don't miss a moment of the movie WHEN YOU TAKE YOUR CRYING KID OUT OF THE THEATER SO THE REST OF US CAN ENJOY THE MOVIE.
10) Are midrises 1209 and 1210 getting closed circuit TVs in the elevators any time soon so we can catch who is dumping their trash in the elevator? Answer: No. Housing will look in to it, but it is not currently scheduled to happen.
11) Is there ever going to be more parking for the residents in midrise 906? Answer: Probably, but not any time soon. Housing is aware of the problem and are looking at options, but it won't be happening in fiscal year 2015.
12) Is UMUC going to offer master's degree programs in education, like in Okinawa? Answer: I don't think so... but this was a convoluted answer. It's based on attendance and Okinawa has a higher overall attendance so more can be offered there. I'd go ask someone in building 411 about your specific options.
13) If I have a sailing certification from another installation, such as Quantico, is it valid here in Iwakuni? Answer: Probably, because all naval installations follow the certification guidelines. But take your cert to outdoor rec and they can verify it for you.
14) Is there anything going to be done about the lousy gym parking? Answer: Yes... ish. Once construction is complete in the area, the gym will get back 29 spaces. They also have a request in to take the yellow hatchmark area as you turn in to the gym lot, and repaint it to accommodate one or two more spaces. Longer term, they are also securing funds to create more parking on the other side of the gym. Long, long term, there will be another, newer gym in 2017.
15) Some MCCS employees are hesitant to complain about some things because they are afraid of retribution. What kind of assurances can you give them? Answer: MCCS HR has an employee relations person just for this sort of thing. They foster open communication and hope the issue can be resolved at the lowest level (and other such PR-approved statements... you guys need to try to sound more genuine). Also, the base's station inspector's office, which is separate from MCCS, is prepared to investigate such issues.
16) Can we get an infant car seat inspector on base? Answer: Yes, but not sure how soon.
17) Can we have tackle football for kids? Answer: MCCS sports can't afford to maintain and sustain the equipment (pads, helmets, etc.) at this time. Parents may have to be willing to pay more for their children's equipment if it does happen.
In conclusion, Col. Boucher said thank you for coming to the meeting and caring about the community. The powers that be want constructive criticism and welcome questions and suggestions. There will be AFN interviews and the info from these town halls will be on one of the web pages that I listed earlier.