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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — When your Japan tour is up, to which U.S. coast do you want to return?

Instead of leaving it up to the winds of fortune, folks who receive orders to Japan dated after Nov. 22 will get to express a preference in a new push to make Japan more attractive to enlisted personnel.

A paragraph added to all Navy PCS (permanent change of station) orders to Japan after Nov. 22 states that follow-on assignments — in both sea-going and shore duties — will be guaranteed a choice of coast. You can’t pick your base, but you can get geographically close.

This is hoped to encourage more people to come to Japan, said Seventh Fleet Command Master Chief Tom Howard.

“We always need to bring sailors here,” he said. “There are plenty of billets — especially in the E-5 to E-9 range — that routinely go unmanned because we can’t get the right flavor of people over here. Our goal is to be 100 percent manned.”

Japan historically has been a hard sell for a couple of reasons. Sailors ranked E-5 and above are often in “settle down mode,” getting started with families and buying homes and are therefore less likely to want to uproot, Howard said.

East Coasters also were less likely to pick Japan if they wanted to return to the area, as the Navy was more prone to transferring someone to the West Coast after his or her Japan tour.

“It’s the difference between a one-ocean and a two-ocean move,” Howard said. “This program will likely cost the Navy more. But now, someone from Norfolk can elect to come back to the East Coast after Japan. They might not get Norfolk and they may end up in Florida, but they’re still closer the next time they can talk to their detailer.”

Misperceptions and fear of the unknown also play a role in turning down an overseas tour, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Zac Hamen.

“Some people don’t want to try anything new,” Hamen said. “I actually really wanted to come here but I knew others who didn’t.”

There’s no “grandfather clause,” so those currently in Japan on orders dated before Nov. 22, 2005, are ineligible. Nor can sailors “bank” their coast choice if they take orders to another country. It only works for post-Japan follow-on assignments.

Still, for those eligible, a preference could bring peace of mind, said Lt. Hope D. Hair, Seventh Fleet’s assistant chief of staff for administration.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Hair said from her office on the USS Blue Ridge. “Even if you’re not at the same base, knowing that you’ll be able to see your family by flying or driving home easily is peace of mind. It’s better than no promises and no guarantees.”

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