By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Navigating life on a US military base in Japan can be confusing on a good day – especially in Okinawa, where base housing is in short supply. Employees and volunteers at NMCRS Okinawa field a lot of questions from Sailors and Marines and their families about how to manage when they first arrive on the island. Fortunately, NMCRS Okinawa Director Elizabeth Moore brings a wealth of experience from well over a decade of volunteering for the Society, as well as her own insights after the Navy PCS’d her husband to Okinawa a year ago.
“I’ve been a Navy spouse since 1999, and the one constant in my life throughout my husband’s Navy career has been the Society,” Moore explained. “I’ve volunteered as a client services assistant and a caseworker and filled in for various lead positions. NMCRS taught me to crochet when we were in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and I’ve crocheted many baby blankets given to attendees of our budget for baby classes. I’m bringing the knowledge that all the employees and volunteers at the offices where I’ve volunteered have instilled in me and putting it to use as a director.”
Okinawa includes seven camps, and many service members are not allowed to drive. While the Marine Corps provides a bus that circulates around the island, active duty Marines may not have time during their workday to take an hour-long bus ride to the main office at Camp Foster, so NMCRS has an emergency services office located 45 minutes north at Camp Hansen. “If you need to get a quick assist loan or arrange transportation and funding for emergency leave, having an office closer to where the client is stationed is crucial,” Moore said.
Keeping a close eye on shifts in the Marine Corps’ population on Okinawa, Moore is working closely with local commands to understand how the Society can best meet clients’ needs. “A lot of housing is being renovated on base,” she explained. “It’s long been needed, but a lot of people were displaced without much notice. Some families had only a few months to find a new house and most wanted to keep their kids in the same schools. There were some expenses with moving that families weren’t prepared for, so we were able to help with those. And just trying to find a place to live in a foreign country is hard. There’s a language barrier and unfamiliar fees. It’s difficult to know if a home has been inspected and approved. It can be overwhelming.”
A small service that can make a big difference for military families dealing with overseas expenses is NMCRS Okinawa’s coupon program. “Coupons that expire stateside are still good overseas for six more months,” Moore explained. “Our coupon coordinator seeks out people who send us thousands of coupons. She bags them in two-pound plastic bags and they are sorted based on expiration dates. We distribute the bags of coupons through the base libraries and the USO offices, and the commissary hands them out too.”
Moore hopes to grow her dedicated corps of volunteers, especially since she needs volunteers who are available to travel throughout the island to speak at pre-deployment briefs that are held at the different camps. “We don’t just provide services for families—we also provide educational and budgeting services for single Sailors and Marines. We get a lot of service members in our office who leave the island on temporary assignments and forget to turn their cell phones off. They come back to Okinawa and have $800 cell phone bills because of the roaming charges. In our pre-deployment brief, we remind service members to turn off their cell phones when deployed or TAD. We also see Sailors and Marines who don’t understand what is or isn’t an authorized expenditure to be charged to their government credit cards when on government travel. Lodging is not an authorized expense, so service members have to pay that cost and file a travel claim for reimbursement which may take a while.”
Living and working in Okinawa has given Moore the personal knowledge about military life overseas to better prepare her to help NMCRS clients. “I’m excited to be here,” she said. “It’s really neat to have grown up with the Society. I feel like my working knowledge of the military has always remained up-to-date because I was always in the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office.”