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ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — Better-quality toilet paper, new barbecue grills and a rosy staff disposition helped Atsugi’s combined bachelor housing division earn the Navy’s most prestigious housing award.

For the fourth time, Atsugi earned the Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Award — certifying it exhibits the highest level of service and quality in all 1,700 bachelor rooms.

“It really makes us feel that we’re operating in a world-class environment,” said Chief Petty Officer Gepp P. Brucelas, the division’s leading chief petty officer.

The awards program began as a competition to determine which base had the best housing in a region. But it evolved into a measure of a facility’s quality, using a star system like that used to rate commercial hotels.

Five stars earn a Zumwalt Award.

At Atsugi, an inspector painstakingly examined parts of the 19 buildings Brucelas oversees for four days in November. The inspector concluded the facility deserved to keep its five-star rating.

Inspections are done biennially, and inspections look at both transient and permanent-party bachelor rooms.

To earn the coveted five stars, a housing division must meet a laundry list of ordinary standards along with additional star standards to show it’s a cut above.

The ordinary criteria cover the quality of furniture, whether heating and air conditioning work and if the room has enough entertainment electronics. Inspectors also go behind the scenes to look at management and finances.

The star standards go further, examining things such as the quality of additional linens and, of course, toilet paper. Amenities should be hotel-grade and the staff must be able and ready to meet customers’ demands, Brucelas said.

He credits his staff of about 120 people for the award.

Rooms can be nice or not, he said, but for customers, “a nasty attitude checking in at the front desk — that’s all they would remember.”

One of the hardest parts of his job, Brucelas said, is preparing new sailors who join his staff.

It’s one of the few commands that really involves customer service — which, he said, can make joining the housing team more challenging for those from nonservice backgrounds, such as navigation.

The inspection was more rigorous this year since the Navy raised some standards in 2002. Doors must have bolt locks in addition to modern key cards and ice machines must be made to produce ice that can be put in beverages or consumed, not just used to cool containers.

Atsugi is one of three commands Navywide that earned the Zumwalt this year for the fourth consecutive time.

That makes Brucelas proud, but the real return, he said, is getting guests’ comment cards “that say they enjoyed their stay.”


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