ARLINGTON, Va. — Tours on Guam just got longer.

The Navy is adding a year to accompanied tours for sailors serving in Guam, according to a fleetwide message. Sailors with families in tow will now have to spend 36 months on the island.

Unaccompanied tours remain at 24 months.

The change comes as Guam shifts from a small Western Pacific backwater base to a key hub for the entire region.

Some units there — including the newly arrived attack boats in Submarine Squadron 15 and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 — are already in three-year tours on the island.

“This basically just lines everyone up under same rules,” said detailing manager Lt. Barry Stowell from the Navy’s manpower offices in Tennessee.

More than 3,000 miles west of Hawaii, Guam is home away from home to more than 12,000 military members and their families — mostly in the Air Force and Navy — and is increasingly becoming a strategic hub for operations in the Middle East and Asia.

Announcing the change in a fleetwide message for the Navy, Vice Adm. G. L. Hoewing wrote that the change comes in the wake of a Defense Department directive issued last year to increase accompanied tour lengths from two to three years.

The Air Force announced it was making similar changes to tour lengths at Guam in January. Accompanied tours will shift from two to three years and unaccompanied tours will get bumped up from 15 to 24 months. Those changes, however, don’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2006.

For the Navy, however, the shift is immediate.

“Rotation dates have been adjusted for all personnel presently assigned to commands on accompanied tours and not under orders to depart Guam, to complete a 36-month tour,” wrote Hoewing.

Those with new assignment orders already in hand are not affected and will leave the island as planned.

“Case-by-case waivers will be reviewed for sailors who have had their projected rotation date adjusted to allow for an earlier detachment date for reason such as unit readiness or specific family impact,” wrote Hoewing.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott and Pacific Fleet Master Chief Petty Officer Rick West are slated to visit Guam for all-hands gatherings March 30 to April 2.

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