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Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe, commander of Naval Forces Japan, right, receives the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from Japan Maritime Self Defense Force chief of staff Adm. Takashi Saito on Tuesday, on behalf of the Emperor.
Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe, commander of Naval Forces Japan, right, receives the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from Japan Maritime Self Defense Force chief of staff Adm. Takashi Saito on Tuesday, on behalf of the Emperor. (U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — During his two years as commander of Naval Forces Japan, Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe has wrestled with what happens when guests upset their hosts.

The guests, in this case, are the U.S. Navy and its sailors. The hosts are the Japanese and their government.

Ruehe has witnessed sailors being charged with a laundry list of crimes, a string of drug busts and complaints from Japanese citizens about jet noise, bad behavior and the potential that a nuclear-powered carrier will replace the USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka Naval Base.

But of greater significance to U.S.-Japanese relations, the admiral said, are the achievements.

He cited among them a greatly expanding community outreach, a reduction in misbehavior by preventative rather than punitive means, and a strengthening in the partnership with Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force.

Ruehe is to leave his command Thursday and assume a similar post in Norfolk, Va. Here, he’s been responsible for Navy bases in Japan, Okinawa and Diego Garcia, and for 7th Fleet shore support.

In a recent interview with Stars and Stripes, he described the job as being a balancing act to ensuring sailors and ships are ready for duty while preserving the hospitality the Navy enjoys from Japan.

Ruehe recalled a series of drug busts on several Japan-based Navy ships as among the most notable problems he faced.

“In many areas we weren’t as aware of the scope (of the problem) and availability (of drugs),” he said. “We are opening our eyes to that.”

The arrests convinced Navy leaders to adapt drug testing and work more closely with U.S. and Japanese investigators, he added.

Cultural relations programs and increased interaction with newly arrived servicemembers, he said, can reduce alienation and the potential for bad behavior. He’s also promoted personal U.S.-Japanese meetings.

“It’s really important that we encourage Japanese people to reach out to our families,” he said. “That two-way connection makes for a successful overseas assignment.”

Discipline, he tells sailors, effects readiness in two ways. One is that losing a sailor due to behavioral or legal problem robs his command of a trained person. The other is a ripple effect that “affects the nature of the support that we get from the communities,” he said. “No incident is isolated.”

Ruehe also has had to handle perennial local concerns about encroachment, such as aircraft noise complaints from Japanese residents in communities near bases such as Naval Air Facility Atsugi in the Tokyo area.

What makes being a commander in Japan different, however, is working with other cultures and developing ties to other nations’ militaries — what Ruehe said is “one of the most rewarding parts” of his job.

The Navy and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, for example, train together and share information through the Centrix network of ship-based computers that allow instant communication.

“This kind of skill-building has translated into success in collaboration,” he said, adding that it helped Japan’s navy provide tsunami relief in January.

Ruehe also helped administer one of the Navy’s most sweeping changes: converting shore commands to a streamlined, centrally organized installation command.

As his fourth tour in the Far East nears its end, Ruehe said he’s ready to return to the States.

But, he added, “the forward-deployed naval force is a place where you make an impact. No matter what your pay grade, you have the opportunity to make a difference. That reflects well on the United States.”

Change of command

Rear Adm. Frederic R. Ruehe will hand the Commander Naval Forces Japan reins over to Rear Adm. James D. Kelly during a ceremony Thursday aboard the USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Ruehe will move to Norfolk, Va., to take control of Commander Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.

— Stars and Stripes

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