Homeport Ashore program is exceeding expectations
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The sailors love the freedom it offers. The commander calls it a “strategic issue.”
From all accounts, the Homeport Ashore initiative for Yokosuka and Sasebo Naval Base continues to move toward its target goal: getting 4,600 shipboard E-1s to E-4s a place to live ashore.
Rear Adm. James D. Kelly, the commander for Naval Forces Japan, says 1,708 junior fleet sailors will be living in apartment-style housing by April.
Although he thinks it might be a reach to meet the Chief of Naval Operations target homeport ashore completion date of 2012, he says he’ll continue to push toward the Navy goal of getting 3,400 Yokosuka and 1,200 Sasebo sailors, E-1 to E-4, on-base housing.
“When I talk to some of the older master chiefs, they say that living aboard the ship was good for them, so it should be good for today’s sailors,” Kelly said. “It might have been good for the Navy 30 years ago, but it’s not good anymore.”
Kelly says he’s serious about solving the problem of how to take care of sailors well into the 21st century.
“To me, quality of life is a strategic issue,” Kelly said. “The forward deployed naval forces fleet sailors have an ‘optempo’ (percentage of time spent operating away from homeport) of 60 percent. And, if anyone deserves to have it a little better, it’s these folks.”
“So far the program is exceeding our expectations,” said CNFJ Command Master Chief Luis Cruz. “When I walk through the [enlisted bachelor] housing and ask young sailors what they think, their eyes are just glowing when they talk about how good it is to have a place to call home.”
For Petty Officer 3rd Class Steven Gill, being allowed to live in the apartment-style quarters is the best thing that has happened since his ship, USS Mustin, changed homeports from San Diego to Yokosuka.
“Being here feels like home,” he said. “This is great. We all can hang out and we have a place to go.”
Each apartment is home to four sailors. It comes complete with the basic amenities: beds, a couch, dining room table — even decorative plants.
“I’ve got friends that still live on the ship,” said USS Stethem’s Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Lewis, shaking his head with a look on his face that said he feels sorry for them. “When they come over, they’re like, ‘This is amazing!’ ”
According to Lewis, the consensus is the benefit of living off the ship is the best incentive the Navy could have offered to keep sailors on their best behavior.
“Everyone who lives here knows that the guys who live on the ship want these rooms,” Lewis said. “So for us, we have a reason to set a good example — to be the top junior sailors on the ship.”
Kelly said all available bed space at Yokosuka has been identified, and 1,360 sailors are now living off ships. Another 348 junior sailors will move off their ships when renovation on the remaining bed space will be done in April.
Halfway to the goal, Kelly must now find the money to house the remaining sailors.
“The projected cost of the future construction is $337 million,” said Cruz. “That will provide housing for 95 percent of our fleet sailors.”
According to Kelly, there are basically three different sources to generate needed revenue: military construction, Japanese facilities improvement and Japanese private funds.
Of those three, Kelly believes that Japanese private funds may have the most potential.
“I think if I show the contractors exactly what our requirements are, that they would be able to see that there is a lot of money to be made by collecting the basic housing allowance from the residents,” Kelly said. “My goal now is to get to the next step.”