Chaplains' Corner opens in Yokosuka recreation center
Stars and Stripes June 26, 2003
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — In an effort to address post-deployment concerns and pre-empt any repeat of last summer’s liberty incidents, 7th Fleet chaplains are setting up shop where sailors can’t miss them.
This week, the “Chaplains’ Corner” — a few chairs and a couch set off by temporary partitions — sprouted up in the lobby of the Fleet Recreation Center, one of the most heavily trafficked areas on base.
The idea, officials say, is to provide every Yokosuka sailor an “on-call” chaplain at places such as the food court and the Spectrum single sailor center.
“This is what we call a target-rich environment,” 7th Fleet Chaplain Cmdr. William Perdue said Tuesday, gesturing to sailors pouring in during lunch hour.
The sliding-glass doors of the Fleet Recreation Center form one wall of the chaplains’ new satellite office.
As sailors pass, they peer in the new addition to the lobby.
Navy officials hope sailors’ curiosity will bring them in for a chat with a chaplain or an enlisted religious programs specialist.
“The vision is for the waterfront chaplains and [religious programs specialists] to come together and do ministering in a place where sailors already congregate,” Perdue said.
According to Perdue, the impetus for the new office was twofold:
First, many of the Yokosuka-based 7th Fleet ships are undergoing extensive maintenance, turning normally quiet ship chapels into industrial zones.
Second, with the onset of summer, Navy officials are eager to reduce the number of alcohol-related incidents on base and off.
“We hope to engage sailors in a variety of ways, to spark an interest in a place where they don’t really expect chaplains to be,” Perdue said.
“But we have also reached a delicate point, a crucial point in terms of liberty incidents. Part of what we’re doing is to stem the tide of those incidents.”
Last week, Yokosuka base officials said alcohol-related incidents doubled between April and May.
Base commander Capt. Michael Seifert attributed part of that to the return of the USS Kitty Hawk and two of its escorts.
But he also noted bases traditionally have a spike in alcohol-related incidents during summer.
Last summer, a series of widely publicized incidents involving Kitty Hawk sailors led to tightened alcohol measures and restricted liberty rules.
In a period of three weeks in August, several violent incidents — including the robbery and beating of a elderly Japanese man and a carjacking accomplished with a replica pistol — ended in the arrest of a half-dozen junior sailors by Japanese police.
According to Perdue, it was a personal concern of 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Robert F. Willard to “provide all of the ships coming back the maximum exposure to our resources.”
The Chaplains’ Corner will be staffed each weekday by a different chaplain from a Yokosuka-based ship. A smaller partitioned area provides a more private meeting space, and an office upstairs in the Fleet Recreation Center serves as a fully private area.
“The good thing about this is that on ships, the junior sailors generally don’t know they can just walk up to the chaplain’s office and talk,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Tshombe Harris, a 7th Fleet religious program specialist.
“Some ships don’t have chaplains. Now the sailors can have a chaplain readily available to them, and it won’t be on a ship’s schedule.”
On Monday, the first day of business, the Kitty Hawk chaplain was visited by about a dozen sailors, Perdue said.
On Tuesday as the lunch crowd thickened, Perdue had visits from a few sailors passing by.
“Right now, it’s mostly people who are curious about what this is,” Harris said. “As word gets out, it’ll be interesting to see who stops by.”
According to Perdue, the new center will be staffed for two months, then evaluated to see whether it should continue.
“Ideally, if it works and there is a positive reaction, then we would use a more private and permanent space,” Perdue said.