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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — There’s a Navy adage about Japan: It’s hard to get sailors here, but once they’re here, it’s hard to get them out.

The tool to remove the Navy’s Japan cling-ons was the “continuous overseas tour” protocol, which made personnel apply to stay and undergo a review process. Now U.S. 7th Fleet wants more sailors to stay, as evidenced by high COT approval ratings.

This year through November, 800 of 900 COT or Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Program requests, about 87 percent were approved, said Lt. Steve Curry, a 7th Fleet spokesman. In 2005, the approval rate was 75 percent.

“If they are qualified for a specific job, their COT request will be most likely approved,” Curry said Monday. Seventh Fleet wants those who enjoy Japan’s culture to apply to stay here, as it benefits both the Navy and the sailors, he said.

COTs save Navy money in PCS moves, and sailors can make money in Japan, he said. Between the cost-of-living allowance and housing allowance, an E-5 with dependents may see a 40 percent increase in compensation, Curry said.

“Plus, while serving overseas, most people are able to save money while still taking advantage of shopping and travel opportunities,” Curry said. “(They can) use the extra money to pay off credit cards or save towards a house.”

Japan also looks “incredible” to military selection boards, he said.

“Duty overseas is one of the best experiences any sailor can have,” Curry said. “Duty with the Forward Deployed Naval Force (FDNF) is career-enhancing and selection boards look for career diversity.”

COTs are not restricted to Japan — it is a regional program that lets qualified sailors serve multiple tours in Diego Garcia, South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Guam by staying in the same job or being reassigned within the theater.

But applicants must pass the screening process, a change from the pre-2004 Navy, when the request to stay was almost automatic. The renewed enforcement of COT rules in 2004 aimed at weeding out homesteaders, or people who’ve served more than one tour in an overseas location, and those taxing base infrastructure by raising large families overseas.

According to the COT instruction, applicants with more than three primary dependents or parents or in-laws living with them may see their applications red-flagged.

It also says that a person who has served with the forward-deployed naval forces for six years could also be denied. A decade is considered “excessive” as it limits professional Navy experience, according to the COT instruction.

“Our personnel deserve every opportunity to remain professionally competitive for career progression that may not be available in repeated, non-diversified, overseas assignments,” Curry said. “COT ensures the FDNF will continue to get an infusion of new people with new ideas, so that the FDNF remains at the forefront of Navy operational readiness.”

The current protocol also allows a better screen of sailors staying on for their ability to serve as the Navy’s “ambassadors.”

“Good behavior is of extreme importance in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility,” 7th Fleet Chief of Staff Capt. David Newland said in a written statement. “Our desire is to retain only the most respectful and responsible sailors.”

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