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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Moving forward the date that the USS Kitty Hawk officially leaves Japan was not a change, but a “clarification,” the Navy said last week.

Stopping short of calling it a mistake, Navy officials admitted that two different messages came out from the Chief of Naval Operations office, one month apart, with two different dates regarding the day when the aircraft carrier would switch ports from Yokosuka, Japan, to Bremerton, Wash., for decommissioning.

Many sailors and families used the March message that kept Kitty Hawk in Yokosuka (on paper) through Jan. 31 to plan their next move. Even though the ship leaves Yokosuka for good this May, the homeport extension was publicized by officials as a way to keep overseas benefits and offset the inconvenience of potential delays in Bremerton or moving twice.

But Jan. 31 was actually the date set for the ship’s decommissioning, said Pacific Fleet spokesman Jon Yoshishige on Friday. Consequently, a new message dated April 8 specified the decommissioning date as Jan. 31 and moved the homeport change forward to July 15, he said.

“We wanted to ensure everyone knew the difference between the homeport and the decommissioning date,” Yoshishige said, adding his apologies for “any confusion this may have caused.”

USS Kitty Hawk spokespeople said previously that they were assessing how the “clarification” was going to impact their sailors and families.

The 47-year-old Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier has a crew of about 3,000 sailors, of which about 900 will “cross deck” to the USS George Washington — the Kitty Hawk’s replacement at Yokosuka.

The “alongside” crew swap will happen this June in Pearl Harbor. Cross-decking sailors — even if they stay aboard the Kitty Hawk later than June — will continue to get their overseas benefits, Yoshishige said.

The overseas benefits for the rest of the Kitty Hawk sailors — about two-thirds of the crew — will stop July 15 and will switch to either Bremerton pay or the sailor’s next duty station, depending on their orders.

This is not meant to “disadvantage anyone,” Yoshishige said, rather to be “good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”

“Everyone will get their entitlements for their specified geographic area,” Yoshishige said.

The Navy could not have two carriers officially home-ported in Yokosuka at the same time; and Kitty Hawk sailors and families will need to move out to make room for the new arrivals from the George Washington, Yoshishige said.

Because the Navy has an 11-carrier mandate, the Kitty Hawk will not be able to decommission until a new carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush is commissioned. Its Web site says its commissioning is slated for “winter 2009.”

The date shuffle will not impact the Bush’s commissioning, Yoshishige said.

Conflicting statements leave sailors with questions

What happens if the baby isn’t born or the anticipated U.S. entry visa hasn’t arrived by by July 15?

What if a sailor doesn’t have orders and can’t schedule a move for his family before July 15?

The sudden change of home port date from January 2009 to July 15 created a number of “what happens” and “what ifs” that USS Kitty Hawk is working to answer, according to a ship news release.

Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Zecchin addressed the issues Saturday on the ship’s television station. So far, the influx of questions has generated a 14-page document on the aircraft carrier’s Intranet, the release said.

The Yokosuka-based carrier is currently visiting Hong Kong, but officials have been trying to answer questions since they found out about the change April 14, according to the release.

The release characterized the questions as “diverse” and said that “moving families is a big concern.”

“While the overall entitlement portion is relatively cut-and-dry, each sailor affected by the July 15 change of homeport date has his or her own individual details to work through,” the release said.

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