Officials mandate base housing for military families at Okinawa

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U.S. military leaders on Okinawa approved a policy to require all incoming military families to reside on base beginning Aug. 1.

The change comes as an effort to save money as military family housing on Okinawa sits at just more than 50 percent capacity while families living off base are given an overseas housing allowance to cover rent expenses.

"The focus of this new military family housing assignment policy is to increase occupancy rates in our government homes on base," said Lt. Col. David Wilder, the 718th Civil Engineer Squadron commander at Kadena Air Base. The 718th CES staff manages the more than 8,300 military family housing units on-island. 

"By increasing our occupancy in homes built for U.S. forces on Okinawa, we expect to save the Department of Defense about $30 to $50 million annually," he said. 

The policy will not affect families already stationed on Okinawa, nor will it affect unmarried military members. Through attrition, the military's goal of 95 percent occupancy will be met. At that time, incoming families will be given the choice of living on or off their installation.

"We cannot afford to continue to pay off-base entitlements when we have homes recently renovated or constructed and available on base," Colonel Wilder said. "This shift in family housing assignment policy is not only necessary but essential in our effort to support our nation's defense commitments around the world."

This major shift in how the U.S. military manages and assigns military family housing units has been directed by U.S. Forces Japan officials and has been fully coordinated with all services on Okinawa and beyond.

"This policy is in progress with United States Forces Japan and the intent is to implement the policy Japan-wide in the near future," said Pamela Hann of the 718th CES.

In order to ensure the quality of life for all military families on Okinawa, the United States and government of Japan are working together to not only renovate housing already here, but also to build new housing. The projects will span about 16 years and are estimated to cost about $2.4 billion.

"The 18th Wing remains committed to serving the family housing needs of the entire joint services community on Okinawa," Colonel Wilder said. "The 718th Civil Engineer Squadron's housing flight is the designated representative to manage and operate the Defense Department's largest family housing activity."