YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk leaves Japan this spring for its final voyage, but its homeport status will follow it into next year to allow sailors staying with the ship to keep their overseas benefits.

Officials found out Friday that the Chief of Naval Operations extended the ship’s homeport status for four months, from September to January.

Though a financial benefit for the sailors, it won’t change the timeline for the 47-year-old ship’s swap out with the nuclear-propelled USS George Washington.

Kitty Hawk still leaves Yokosuka in the spring, meets the George Washington in Hawaii where 900 sailors will “cross deck” to the new ship, goes to San Diego for a “welcome back” ceremony and eventually makes its way to Bremerton, Wash., for inactivation, said Kitty Hawk spokesman Lt. Bill Clinton.

But questions about the commissioning date of the Navy’s newest carrier — the USS George H.W. Bush — means about 500 sailors must stay with Kitty Hawk until the new ship is ready due to a congressional mandate to have an 11-carrier Navy. The commissioning of the George H.W. Bush is listed on its official Web site as “winter 2009.”

“When the George Bush is commissioned, then Kitty Hawk will be given a decommissioning date,” Clinton said.

Extending the homeport status is designed to make the delay easier by continuing the sailors’ overseas pay and benefits instead of switching them to Bremerton pay while they wait, Clinton said.

“It’s making sure the sailors are being taken care of,” Clinton said Friday.

Simply put, the sailors’ benefits, like cost of living allowance, “stay with the sailor” while still attached to Kitty Hawk, said Kitty Hawk executive officer Capt. Stephen Vissers.

Once the sailor moves off the ship, or when their families move to their next duty station, the benefits change to those fitting the new post. But as long as the sailor stays with the Kitty Hawk, he or she will get to collect single COLA, Vissers said.

Extension particulars, as well as the decommissioning process, was the subject of two meetings this week in Yokosuka’s Fleet Theater, where Kitty Hawk commanding officer Capt. Todd Zecchin fielded questions from sailors and families. Zecchin was also the skipper of the USS John F. Kennedy, which decommissioned last year.

Stripes was not allowed to attend the meetings, but spoke with sailors and officials afterward.

“Most people asked about COLA,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class A.J. Suha.

He is one of several hundred sailors who have not received written orders yet, though he has been told that he’s going to Florida.

“I know it will happen eventually,” he said.

Orders are being cut at a rate of 200 a week, Vissers said, and with about 900 done and 900 sailors cross-decking to the George Washington, they are “over the halfway point,” he said.

Personnel also are working overtime setting up pack-outs with extended and weekend hours, Vissers said.

“Things are falling into place,” Vissers said.

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