OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea –
"I wasn't going to be able to keep my puppies. We were ready to give them up, and we were devastated," said Elena as she kissed her mixed-breed, exhausted pound puppy on the forehead after a 10-plus hour trans-Pacific flight.
After five years in the works, the 731st Air Mobility Squadron passenger terminal welcomed its first four-legged passengers via a new program, allowing service members to fly their pets on the "Patriot Express" to the Korean Peninsula.
"We were days away from giving up our dogs," said Elena's husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Stephen Adams, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief newly assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Humphreys, Republic of Korea. "Last minute, we got the call about this new program, and we were extremely relieved we would be able to keep them: life-changing news for us."
It's a first for this terminal, which was built in 2010 and holds the title, "The gateway to the Korean Peninsula."
The Osan passenger terminal shipped its first outbound pet in September 2014.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Jonathan Wood explained how the new program is a cost savings for the Air Force and any other service using the Patriot Express when members change duty stations.
"The PE is under Air Mobility Command contract to move PCSing members between Osan, Misawa, Yokota and Seattle-Tacoma," he said. "Previously, when pets weren't on the PE program, Air Force and Army travel offices had to purchase commercial airline tickets for PCSing members traveling with pets, ultimately costing more money."
As an added benefit, the PE offers exponential cost savings for members as well. They simply pay an excess baggage fee for their pet based on the combined weight of the animal and the kennel. For the Adams family, it was an 80 percent cost savings over commercial travel.
"We had tried to raise money to cover the expense, but it wasn't happening fast enough," Sgt. Adams explained. "This was our saving grace."
In addition to the cost savings, the smaller, faster and more streamlined process of the PE is healthier for pets, according to U.S. Army Capt. Elad Stotland, 106th Medical Detachment veterinary treatment facility officer in charge.
The reduced time in processing and traveling through airports reduces stress from the animals and offers a quicker road to "relief" from kennels, the captain explained.
"After hours of air travel in a tight space, any amount of time is better for our dogs when it comes getting them out of their kennels and to the grass for some relief and fresh air," Adams said. "For us, PCSing is stressful enough with all the paperwork, new people and change in scenery. After thinking we were going to have to do it without our dogs, this was a big service to us and alleviation to the stress."