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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Ahhh, a room in the barracks.

For Seaman Matthew Belcher, it seems like a wonderful, faraway dream.

Belcher currently lives with 87 other people on the USS Chancellorsville. He — like 2,000 other Yokosuka Naval Base sailors — lives on the ship, even when it’s in port.

“A place where you can stretch out your legs … where you can sit up and read a book without banging your head on the berth above. Yeah, I’d be all smiles if someone opened a door and announced, ‘This is your room,’” Belcher said.

“I work where I live, and it gets to feeling like being in a steel cage. We’re always on each others’ backs. Yeah, it’s like a family, but we fight like family too.”

Getting these sailors off the ships and into rooms is the “single most important quality-of-life issue” out there, said Command Naval Forces Japan Regional Master Chief Luis Cruz.

Enter “Home Port Ashore,” an initiative being fast-tracked by senior Navy leadership.

“It’s time to take action and make this a reality,” Cruz said. “The need is so great … and now we have the leadership to make it happen.”

Home Port Ashore would move 2,000 Yokosuka Naval Base sailors from ships’ berthing to shore when they’re ported here. Half of them will bunk in existing barracks by summer 2007 and four new barracks are to be built by 2012-2015. The goal is to get 95 percent of E-4 and below into the barracks, plus 100 percent of shore duty.

Currently, Navy sea duty personnel ranked E-4 and below usually have to live aboard ship. E-5’s get the option of moving out in town — if they have a year left to serve in Yokosuka — or staying on base.

Having a room means better “mission readiness” and usually leads to better behavior, said Cruz, who was involved in a similar initiative in Hawaii.

“You can only go to the movies so many times. You can only go work out so many times,” Cruz said. “Eventually you’re going to go to the bars and do something we don’t want you to do, like overindulge in alcohol. Plus, getting a good night’s sleep in a good environment ties into mission readiness.”

In the short-term, Home Port Ashore means buying bunk beds and lockers and figuring out the logistics of changing a one- or two-person room into a three- or four-person pad. This will cost an estimated $3.1 million, Cruz said.

Who gets to move still is being figured out. The initial 1,100 sailors likely will be chosen based on a percentage of each ship, Cruz said.

The long-term plan is to construct four new barracks for an estimated $112 million with funds from Military Construction and the Japanese Facilities Improvement Program. The Navy also is batting around the idea of building an apartment complex in the city of Yokosuka, Cruz said.

“We’re going to have an industrial forum soon with local leaders and talk about it,” he said. “Then we’ll do some analysis.”

It all comes as great news to Airman Christopher Thacker, who currently berths with 167 other people.

“It’s a lot easier to decide what to watch on television between four people than 100,” Thacker said. “That would be awesome.”


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