Sasebo community leader says goodbye
April 22, 2008
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — If you are a Sasebo sailor whose ship has returned to balloons, cheering crowds and waterworks, you owe some thanks to Jerry Havens.
For the past three years, ships such the USS Essex and Harpers Ferry pulled into port to a celebration of family members, fire trucks and base support services.
The big, pier-side welcome parties at Sasebo Naval Base were started and coordinated by Havens, who plans to leave Sasebo this month after eight years of community service and employment with the Fleet and Family Support Center.
Few civilians loom as large at the base. Over the years, Havens won over many base residents and Japanese with his wit, language skills and can-do leadership. He helped found the Sasebo Navy League and pushed the support center into new programs.
Still, he said his deep involvement in base activities caused some to call him “self-aggrandizing,” and he cited friction with administrators and commands as a main reason for leaving Sasebo for the United States.
His departure caused a flurry of e-mails to the Stars and Stripes office in Sasebo from those who say they had been inspired, touched or just happy to know Havens.
“Jerry makes you feel like you’ve been in Japan for many years and that if you ever required any assistance, he would be the one to call anytime of the day,” wrote Eddie Castro, a base transportation manager.
And his influence has spread beyond Sasebo.
At Camp Eggers, Afghanistan, Lt. Florence “Bok” Beato said he stopped what he was doing and sat down to his computer keyboard after hearing Havens was leaving Sasebo.
“I looked up to Jerry during my five years … of duty station in Sasebo,” Beato wrote to Stars and Stripes. “I sought advice from him in matters of family, profession, community service, civic organization, team building and even for my own motivation.”
Havens retired from the Navy as a command master chief at Yokosuka Naval Base in 1993 and came to Sasebo FFSC from Atsugi in 2000.
He served as president of the Sasebo Community Association and, despite some trepidation, accepted the base commander’s request to form the Sasebo Navy League in 2003. Under Havens’ leadership, the Navy League won the Meritorious Council Award for community involvement the following year.
“I was worried there wouldn’t be a niche for another community group. Turned out there was a chasm,” he said.
The current Sasebo Navy League president, James Whalen, said Havens has “done more for the Sasebo community than anyone in the past eight to 10 years.”
Meanwhile, Havens kept up his full-time job at the FFSC, where he taught the area orientation briefs and was often one of the first people base residents met when moving to Sasebo.
Havens also wrote a regular column for the base newsletter, Soundings, titled “Living in Japan.” The writing was a regular read for many who were trying to adjust to Japanese culture.
“It was always about being a good visitor and walking softly and being respectful of the culture,” said Jayne Dator-Freeman, an early child special educator at Sasebo Naval Base.
But over time, the command and FFSC started to become concerned about Havens mixing his Navy League duties and his support center duties, he said.
Havens said the disagreements finally convinced him to accept a job managing the relocation and employment programs for the U.S. Southern Command.
His greatest contribution might be the ship homecomings, which are now an important part of what FFSC does, said Amanda Fracker, the FFSC work and family life supervisor and Havens’ boss.
“I think it is a good thing, and it’s going to continue,” she said.