SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — As sailors from the USS Defender fell in formation next to their counterparts from the JS Ariake on board the Japanese destroyer Friday, it became apparent the bond between the two nations — especially their military forces — remains as strong as ever.
The Ariake’s leadership welcomed Defender sailors aboard so they could re-enlist one of the minesweeper’s most valued sailors: Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Lovett, the ship’s head cook. The 18-year Navy veteran wanted to share what will most likely be his last re-enlistment with those who welcomed him warmly when he left his family behind and came to Japan two years ago.
“I enjoyed my time in Japan,” Lovett said as he stood smiling on the destroyer’s deck. “I wanted to give them a chance to see something that’s near and dear to us as sailors.”
Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force officials said a U.S. Navy sailor requesting to re-enlist on one of their ships is a rare occurrence. A JMSDF spokesman said he believed it had happened only once before on the Ariake. JMSDF officials said they welcomed the ceremony because they work so closely with their American counterparts.
As Lovett and a handful of his shipmates filed aboard the Ariake, Japanese officers greeted them with a salute. The Stars and Stripes were hung with care, side by side with the Japanese flag on the ship’s deck.
Sailors from both countries fell in formation while the Defender’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gorden Scott Wells, honorably discharged Lovett. The ship’s executive officer Lt. Kevin McCormick Jr. then re-enlisted him.
Gifts and commemorative plaques were exchanged between Wells and the Ariake’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Yoshihiro Kai.
“The camaraderie is great,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Mikqal Nichols. “I think it’s important for the future as well.”
Lovett, 37, from Lake Elsinore, Calif., leaves the ship soon for a tour on the USS Harry S. Truman with two years to make retirement. He was lauded by the ship’s leadership for being a capable sailor, with a lot of responsibility, in an often-overlooked position.
The cook’s favorite memory of Japan was a barbecue with the JMSDF sailors, he said. They taught him some of their culinary secrets, which he incorporated into his cooking on the Defender.
“I’ve learned little things from the cooking that they do,” he said. The cooks on the ship “have a variety of different cultures. So we combine all of ours together and give it to the crew. That is our job, to feed the crew. And we try to give it the best that we can.”