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Capt. Michael James is the outgoing commander of Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan.

Capt. Michael James is the outgoing commander of Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

Capt. Michael James is the outgoing commander of Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan.

Capt. Michael James is the outgoing commander of Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

Capt. Tilghman Payne will assume command of Sasebo Naval Base on Thursday.

Capt. Tilghman Payne will assume command of Sasebo Naval Base on Thursday. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The outgoing base commander here, at the helm since July 2002, credited the “really smart,” experienced and dedicated personnel in his charge with many accomplishments at mainland Japan’s southernmost naval base.

During a ceremony slated for 10 a.m. Thursday in front of base headquarters, Capt. Michael L. James will relinquish command to Capt. Tilghman D. Payne, 45, selected as Sasebo Naval Base’s 28th skipper.

James, 50, recalled several successful events and initiatives on his watch.

“Certainly, from a lot of different vantage points, the [carrier visits] were very important,” said James, referring to visits by the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln in August 2002 and USS John C. Stennis in August 2004. “These visits probably challenged everyone here in their ability to plan and execute; all of it coming together really reflected a lot of people doing wonderful work.”

The local economic impact of both port visits, lack of any serious off-post incidents involving visiting sailors and the lack of any sustained mass protests, James said, did much to further the U.S.-Japanese relationship.

“The relationship with Japan … as anyone spending much time here soon understands, is the most important bilateral relationship the United States has in this part of the world,” he said.

He also described the importance of servicemembers, dependents and civilian personnel associated with the Navy behaving properly when off base.

“About 99.9 percent of the folks who come here understand this and why it’s so important right off the bat; from then on they don’t have any problems. With the other folks, something goes wrong and they just don’t get it …” he said.

“Those are the ones who either learn the hard way, and after a couple times stubbing their toe and getting into trouble, they figure it out and get themselves on track,” James said, or “for the ones who don’t, there are measures in place.”

He credited the Exceptional Sailor Program with much of the decrease in irresponsible off-base conduct. Through leadership, education and motivation, the ESP rewards sailors who follow Navy regulations with less restrictive liberty and other benefits.

“I personally think what we are now seeing in the reduction of incidents is a direct reflection of that program,” James said.

As for challenges as base commander, other than wishing he’d arrived able to speak Japanese, James said a shore command was an unknown territory in many ways.

“Some folks like me spend a majority of our career out riding around on ships. We don’t aspire to have a job like this but do it because the Navy says this is where they need us. I understand that,” he said, “but because you don’t spend many years getting ready for it, you come without a lot of prior experience.

“You’re relying on the experience and cooperation of a lot of really smart people.

“After about a week here, I thought about what I could do to keep from mucking things up,” he joked. “I’ve found that most will rise to expectations and come up with wonderful things when you give them power to make decisions and feel like part of the organization.”

Capt. Payne to assume command of Sasebo base

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Capt. Tilghman D. Payne will become the 28th commander of Sasebo Naval Base when he assumes the leadership post from Capt. Michael L. James at a 10 a.m. change- of-command ceremony Thursday in front of the base headquarters.

James, 50, and his wife, Brenda, have lived in Sasebo since he became base skipper on July 26, 2002. Before arriving in Japan, James was the chief of staff for Cruiser Destroyer Group 12, Mayport, Fla.

James’ next assignment, he said, begins soon; however, he asked that the specific title or location not be published in the interest of security.

Payne, 45, is a 1981 U.S. Naval Academy graduate; most recently, after commanding the Atlantic Fleet’s guided missile frigate USS Nicholas, permanently based in Norfolk, Va., he completed a master’s degree in national security resources at the National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. The new base commander’s personal awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, five Navy Commendation Medals and two Navy Achievement Medals.

Payne and his wife, Suzanne, have two children.

— Greg Tyler


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