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Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe R. Campa Jr. talks to sailors about leadership in the hanger bay of the USS Kitty Hawk on Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe R. Campa Jr. talks to sailors about leadership in the hanger bay of the USS Kitty Hawk on Thursday at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. (Christopher B. Stoltz / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s top enlisted sailor spent the past week visiting naval facilities throughout Japan — including Sasebo, Atsugi and Yokosuka — on what he characterized as a “good visit.”

A delayed flight prevented a duty call to Misawa, but Stars and Stripes was able to catch up with Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe R. Campa Jr. at Yokosuka, where the specter of the sailor being held in the stabbing death of a taxi driver hung in the air.

Overall, Campa said he would be leaving Japan with a good feeling about the quality of leadership in the Pacific and how it is responding to recent problems.

“When everything is going great, that isn’t when your leadership is really tested,” Campa said.

He believes everyone has performed well in the aftermath of the March 19 slaying of the cab driver.

“That’s the mark of true leadership,” Campa said. “Facing adversity and being able to overcome it.”

During one all-hands call, Campa said he was asked by a sailor how leadership justifies “taking away the civil liberties of our sailors” by imposing liberty restrictions because of the actions of one person.

Campa said the question really struck him, because the way he sees it, the Navy is here to protect freedom and democracy. But, he said, when a tragedy like the killing occurs, the Navy owes itself and the Japanese to “take a pause — to pull back and see what we need to do — and to ask, ‘How did this happen?’ because we’re better than that.”

He mentioned that flaws in the overseas screening process had been brought up to him several times.

“There’s probably room for improvement in that process,” Campa said. “But you have to apply some common sense to that also. It’s more than just a check box. You have to know who you are sending over here.”

Campa admitted it’s difficult with people coming straight out of the accession pipeline, “but you do the best you can, and then you create expectations early on of what it means to serve out here.”

Campa said the vast majority of sailors serving overseas are living up to their expectations, so he doesn’t think the solution to off-base incidents lies solely within the overseas screening process. Instead, he said, it could be better addressed with a greater emphasis on deck-plate leadership.

“We used to call it intrusive leadership, but it’s not. It is deck-plate leadership — it’s really knowing your people,” he said. “So while I think overseas screening is part of it, I don’t think that’s the silver bullet.”

Strengthening the Navy’s existing culture of leadership is a top priority for Campa.

“The chief has a very well-defined role in our Navy,” he said. “The first class petty officer helps strengthen that role up and down the chain of command, and I need them doing that. I need them meeting the full measure of that expectation, because we don’t have any sailors to spare.”

Campa said the Navy is evaluating how it trains petty officers, with an emphasis on the middle enlisted ranks.

“When someone makes second class, does someone sit them down and say, ‘these are now your expectations as a second class?’” Campa asked.

“In the past, we’ve kind of done that informally, and it’s worked, but I think we can improve upon that,” he said.

Leadership is the key, Campa stressed, adding that he didn’t join the service expecting to be advanced to the rank of master chief petty officer of the Navy.

“But I had good leaders along the way,” Campa said. “I had leaders who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. That gave me some responsibility and allowed me to make honest mistakes.”

Campa’s take

Tuition assistanceWhen asked why the Navy’s tuition assistance program pays for 16 semester hours per fiscal year — the other services provide $4,500 per year — Campa couched his explanation by describing a college graduation ceremony for enlisted sailors he attended at Naval Air Facility Atsugi.

He was, in a word, “moved.”

“When I see the effect of the TA program, with all those sailors … achieving a college education … it tells me that TA is working,” Campa said. “We, unlike the other services, spread it out, but I think we are able to impact more of our sailors, and we don’t run out of money at the end … the budget for that isn’t endless.”

Campa said the Navy is constantly evaluating the program and cited a recent change that reversed the Navy’s previous policy of not allowing sailors tuition assistance in their last year of their enlistment.

“We’ve adjusted that,” Campa said. “I personally feel that as long as a sailor is serving, we expect them to meet the full measure of their responsibilities. Then they should have all the entitlements that come with that.”

Physical fitnessDuring each stop on Campa’s tour, he took time to exercise with local sailors.

“We put different stresses on our bodies than, say, our ground forces,” Campa said. “But the demands are there — we need to take care of ourselves.”

The morning of the interview, Campa exercised with the base chief petty officer community.

“When I am on the road, I look for that motivation to come PT with me, because it helps my personal physical readiness. I think our Navy has come a long way in that respect,” Campa said. “We have a PT uniform coming out, and I think that reinforces this culture of fitness that we’ve been talking about for several years, and it’s good to see it coming to life.”

But Campa stressed that you can’t get fit by talking about it.

“I tell the chiefs, ‘You can’t talk about physical readiness; you can’t give it lip service. You’ve got to be out in front leading it.’” he said.

During his visit to Atsugi, Campa said, a sailor challenged him during PT. While he didn’t say what the outcome was, he said: “It’s good to see that kind of fire in our sailors.”

— Chris Fowler

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