Stars and Stripes spoke recently with Vice Adm. Jonathan Greenert, commander of the 7th Fleet, about the issues and topics that concern him. Greenert, who took the helm in August, spoke about things that keep him up at night and why he’s taking a close look at how sailors behave. Today’s story is the second in a two-part series. Click here for the full transcript of the interview.

ABOARD THE USS BLUE RIDGE, Japan — Vice Adm. Jonathan Greenert, commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, uses the analogy of a rainstorm when describing his effort to curb bad behavior among the thousands of sailors under his command.

“I’ve been pounding on behavior,” he said. “It’s like a heavy rainstorm. Sometimes when it’s been dry for a long time and there’s a heavy rainstorm you think you’ve got a ton of water so the ground must be completely saturated. But it’s not necessarily true. It takes a while to sink in. You’ve got to make sure it gets all the way down to the bottom.”

Greenert explained that he has begun initiatives to curb incidents because sailors’ misdeeds often reverberate to the State Department level, particularly as the United States and Japan discuss the future of a carrier based in the nation.

He has been visiting ships under his command lately, sitting down with officers and enlisted leadership to stress the importance of good behavior.

Since Greenert took command in August, the fleet has had a string of drug arrests. Sailors from ships stationed in or passing through his area of responsibility have been arrested in four countries for drunken mishaps and have caused considerable diplomatic discord.

As U.S. and Japanese leaders discuss plans to replace the non-nuclear powered USS Kitty Hawk, Greenert doesn’t want bad behavior to get in the way.

“I call behavior a strategic issue,” he said. “In some cases it doesn’t take but a singular heinous crime or a major event to turn … a very unfortunate tragic incident into a strategic item.

“Behavior is not [an issue] I think we should have to deal with, nor do I want to deal with it. I want to avoid footprint as an agenda item on the Kitty Hawk replacement.”

Keeping trouble in check

The Navy features several programs to help curb incidents, Greenert said. Sailors are screened before being assigned to an overseas tour. They must earn liberty access and dress properly off base. Drug testing is stricter than in the past, and limits on consecutive tours helps keep fresh and positive personnel in the country.

But new sailors may not recognize the impact their actions have and may not understand the culture enough at first to make smart decisions.

“The fact of the matter is, you mix a young person after midnight with alcohol and bad judgment, and you have a problem,” he said. “We’ve had too many instances in the past where the individual is in trouble, and they just didn’t understand that it was that big a deal. It’s not a big deal when it’s Philadelphia or Sioux City or wherever the other culture is.”

The Navy uses the Exceptional Sailor Program or liberty card program to ask supervisors to limit freedoms for sailors with any warning signs.

Full liberty means “you understand the culture, you understand the significance of your behavior, you understand your ambassadorial requirements and you can stay out all night,” Greenert said.

A civilian dress policy that dictates that certain clothes popular in the States are not allowed in Japan reduces tension, he said. “I call that cultural alignment, for lack of a better word. It’s actually asking people to have an appearance befitting them as ambassadors. Avoid a gangster or thug theme out there because it just sends the wrong message. We want to eliminate a provocation or a threatening appearance. Our interface with some cultures tells us that it does that in some cases.”

The consecutive overseas tour policy limits most sailors to two tours in Japan. Those who stay longer than two tours should be re-screened, Greenert said.

“Our consecutive overseas tour policy, I think, directly shapes behavior. It rotates people through. It cross-pollinates not only skill sets out here but people that understand the culture. It gives people fresh perspective,” he said. “We think two tours are probably enough, where you’ve experienced the culture, you’ve experienced the advantage of overseas duty here in Japan, we want to cross-pollinate you to the rest of the Navy. At the same time we need to get people out here to understand the significance of what we do out here and to have that advantage. It has an indirect impact on behavior.”

Greenert also uses a new, more stringent drug prevention and screening policy designed to make it more likely that sailors using drugs will get caught.

Testing is more random, and better cooperation with investigators is helping catch drug users through “referrals” from busted sailors, in addition to urinalysis results. Flushing products designed to fool a urinalysis now are illegal.

With such programs in place, Greenert now is emphasizing the importance of good behavior to the leadership below him through visits to each of the ships.

“What I’m asking people to do is get involved at the deck-plate level. I’m very convinced that my commanders get it,” he said. “Behavior is a strategic issue. I believe the chief petty officers and the supervisors need to sit down with their folks, what I call looking them in the eye, and [tell them] how important it is.

“My mantra to the fleet … is we are ambassadors residing in Asia at the invitation of our friends and allies. We need to align our behavior to that culture, whatever that may be.”

A diplomatic balance

Behavior is strategic in light of talks about the replacement for the USS Kitty Hawk, expected to be decommissioned in 2008. The Navy is still on track for that date, but no replacement has been announced, Greenert said.

But the Navy continually looks at its options. Greenert said every option is considered, including moving the carrier to a different port in Japan or moving the ship’s air wing — the source of significant noise complaints at Naval Air Facility Atsugi — to different locations.

“The problems are not new,” he said. “We need to coexist. We are guests in a country at the invitation of the people and the government of Japan and so we need to look at what is the right balance between being guests in a country … versus the readiness requirement to provide protection to live up to our part of the alliance.”

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