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NAVAL AIR FACILITY MISAWA, Japan — More than 40 of the Navy’s top enlisted leaders in the Far East met at Misawa this week to share ideas and learn what’s new across the region.

The Far East Command Master Chiefs’ Symposium heard updates about issues including tests of the Navy’s proposed new working uniform, the consecutive overseas tours policy and gang activity among sailors.

Also attending were several Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force senior enlisted leaders and some command master chiefs’ spouses, who held a symposium to discuss leadership skills, resilience and burnout.

In a sea of chiefs’ khakis, the blue and gray camouflage of Command Master Chief Joseph P. Halton, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, stood out. The Navy’s proposed new working uniform is being test-worn in Japan by some sailors at Atsugi.

“The idea is E-1 to O-10 … get us all in the same uniform” that “reflects the times and the environments we work in,” Halton said.

He said he’s heard varying opinions on the uniform, from, “‘I don’t like it’ to, ‘It’s about time.’” The test period ends in August.

Mike Driscoll, Commander, Naval Forces Japan’s command master chief, said that since Oct. 1, 78 percent of requests for consecutive overseas tours have been approved. The rest were denied primarily due to a large number of dependents or numerous overseas tours, he said. The policy limits back-to-back tours sailors may complete in Japan.

“There are no hard-and-fast rules because we will make exceptions for manning,” Driscoll said.

Last fall, he said, changes to COT included requiring 7th Fleet sailors going to the 7th Fleet in Guam, South Korea or Singapore, or a non-7th Fleet sailor in Guam, Singapore or South Korea going to the 7th Fleet, to submit a COT request.

One reason, Driscoll said: Sailors are expected to complete one overseas tour in a 20-year career. “If we don’t keep those billets open, you’re not able to do that.”

Commander, Battle Force 7th Fleet leaders would like to see policy strengthened to require an overseas tour, to increase manning on forward-deployed ships, said CTF-70 Command Master Chief Tyler Schoeppey.

“Manning is an issue for us,” he said. “Not everyone wants to come overseas.”

Numbers show overseas Pacific bases are manned at 90 percent, he said, compared with about 110 percent for stateside Pacific bases. Being considered to beef up overseas numbers: letting a sailor who completes a successful overseas tour choose his follow-on assignment.

“If he really wanted to go to Norfolk (Naval Station, Va.), although it would cost a great deal of money [to send him], he would have that option,” Schoeppey said.

Stacey V. Nelson, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigator, told the master chiefs of some gang graffiti found on and off base at Yokosuka, a telltale sign gangs are present.

“We recruit from the mean streets of America. When you recruit from the mean streets of America, you get the good and the bad,” he said.

One way to control gang activity, Nelson said, is to send a message that it won’t be tolerated and quickly and aggressively weed out sailors with obvious gang connections.

Use the Uniform Code of Military Justice to one’s advantage, Nelson advised the chiefs: If a sailor thought to be a gang member is caught committing an illegal act, “hammer them. If they want to be a gang-banger, you don’t want them around.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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