Commander, Naval Forces Japan, Rear Adm. James Kelly salutes during the playing of the U.S. and Japanese national anthems Monday at Yokosuka.

Commander, Naval Forces Japan, Rear Adm. James Kelly salutes during the playing of the U.S. and Japanese national anthems Monday at Yokosuka. (Chris Fowler / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — After months of preparation, the USS McCampbell arrived at Yokosuka on Monday to replace the frigate USS Gary.

The move entailed more than the McCampbell’s three-week transit from San Diego. It also meant swapping out almost half of McCampbell’s 280 crewmembers with Gary sailors, and providing cross-cultural training.

“We started transitioning sailors from Gary to McCampbell (several) months ago,” said McCampbell Command Master Chief Freddy Morales. “We would swap out groups of 25 sailors at a time. With each additional swap, new sailors arriving were available to answer questions about life in Japan. It has made the transition process very smooth.”

Morales himself is one of nearly 130 former Gary sailors who now call McCampbell home. He and Gary Command Master Chief Ted Verschueren swapped commands in a turnover that began 10 days ago when McCampbell pulled into Hawaii.

“I think in the beginning, many of the crew may have been a little anxious about living in Japan,” Verschueren said of the sailors who hadn’t lived in in the country before. “But now that crew is excited about going out there and doing real-world exercises.”

During the transit from Hawaii to Japan, Morales spearheaded cultural indoctrination lectures for the crew.

When news reached the ship that a 19-year-old Gary sailor was arrested for allegedly stabbing a Japanese woman and a teenage girl, Morales was preparing to speak to the McCampbell’s petty officers second class.

“What happened is a real tragedy, but it also served as a teaching point,” Morales said. “I used it as an example that for all things good and bad, it only takes one sailor to make a difference.”

When the McCampbell arrived at Yokosuka on Monday, a brief homeporting ceremony was held. After customary flowers and plaques were exchanged, Commander, Naval Forces Japan Commander Rear Adm. James Kelly welcomed the McCampbell’s crew and offered words of encouragement for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

“We are the best of allies … and people should understand that,” Kelly said to the audience of Japanese and U.S. servicemembers.

The McCampbell is an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer that “has the newest missile launching … and tracking technology available, and that’s also a message people should understand,” Kelly said.

The final step in the transition will happen toward the middle of August, when the Gary plots a course from Yokosuka to its new homeport of San Diego.

For Gary’s navigator, Lt. j.g. Janina Eddinger, living in Japan has been a good a experience, but there really is no place like home.

“I’ve been able to see many countries while being forward deployed,” Eddinger said. “But my husband, my church and my running club are all back in San Diego. It will be nice to be home again.”

See more photos here.

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