Col. Jeff Newell, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing and Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Col. Jeff Newell, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing and Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Preparing for change, training for a major inspection and ensuring the safety of airmen when they’re off base are priorities for Yokota’s commander.

Col. Jeff Newell said Thursday that since assuming command of the 374th Airlift Wing eight months ago, he has developed a vision for Yokota — one that every airman here can help realize.

Host-nation relationsOne of Newell’s focuses is the strong relationship between Yokota and the surrounding Japanese communities.

“I want to reinforce to every airman that we inherit the warm relations with the local community from our predecessors,” he said. “It is our duty to be stewards of that relationship.”

An off-base altercation, such as a drunken driving arrest or a bar fight, can damage that relationship, Newell said, stressing that he is prepared to take the necessary actions to prevent future incidents.

Last week, he met with the Fussa City mayor to discuss a possible strengthening of restrictions regarding the local entertainment district known as Bar Row, and Newell said the potential for tougher restrictions is not something to be taken lightly.

“Frankly, I’m an incident away from tightening restrictions,” he said.

Newell said his goal is to work with the local government and bar owners to ensure the safety of Yokota’s airmen. He said certain establishments might be placed off limits, or an earlier curfew could be imposed.

“Parents have an expectation that the wing leadership will look after their sons and daughters,” he said.

Changing the face of YokotaA Feb. 15 ceremony at Yokota broke ground for the future site of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force Air Defense Command headquarters.

Construction of the new headquarters is scheduled to begin April 20 and is one of 28 projects planned on Yokota over the next several years.

The relocation of the Air Defense Command will bring more than 1,000 JASDF personnel to the base and “change the face of Yokota,” Newell said.

The colonel said most of the Japanese staff will commute to the base.

“We do have excess housing on base,” he added, “so I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually Japanese families lived on Yokota. But currently there are no plans for it.”

Newell said improvements to the base infrastructure are planned, such as upgrading the aging steam system, which suffered a “catastrophic failure” last month.

“As you drive around base, you’ll see [construction] on almost every corner,” he said.

A tight-knit teamAlong with the many changes coming to the base, Newell said he is committed to making his airmen experts in their mission.

Only a few months into his command, he had to prepare the wing for a Unit Compliance Inspection, a major inspection that takes place every four years and examines how the unit follows specific laws, policies and programs.

“Right from day one, I knew if we were going to do well on the UCI, we would have to seriously focus,” he said.

The 14 squadrons inspected received 12 excellent ratings, one satisfactory and one outstanding, the highest possible rating. Overall, the 374th Airlift Wing received a rating of excellent.

“We felt ready,” Newell said, “but we were floored by the final result. We never expected to do so well.”

The commander said his team is already preparing for the 2009 Operational Readiness Inspection, which tests how well the wing carries out its mission.

Newell said he hopes to maintain the tight-knit, small-town feel of the Yokota community.

“[Yokota] reminds me of a small Midwest town where everyone knows each other,” he said. “I feel that sense at Yokota more than I have at any [stateside] base.”

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