SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sandra Franklin can vouch for the power of the Japanese daruma doll.

Sour-faced, armless and legless, the white-eyed daruma dolls come with strict instructions.

Fill in one eyeball with black ink and make a wish.

If it comes true, fill in the other eyeball.

Franklin has two daruma dolls with all four eyes blacked upon the desk where she sits as general manager of Sasebo’s Navy Exchange.

Her dolls both have the same word written on their bases representing the same wish: “Bingham.”

Sasebo’s Navy Exchange has won the coveted Bingham award for two years running.

But in reality, it had more to do with hard work than with wishful thinking, Franklin said.

“The kids won it,” Franklin said, getting a little misty as she spoke about Sasebo’s 200 NEX workers.

“They did it with their blood, sweat and tears.”

The past two years were dynamic times for the Sasebo’s NEX, as three-and-half buildings were combined into one 40,000 square-foot store.

That meant construction, demolition and transitioning into double the former space, while maintaining their smiles and keeping shopping convenient for customers.

But their sales rose dramatically as did their customer satisfaction index, winning them enough points to bag the Bingham.

The award — named after Capt. W.H. Bingham, who established the Navy Exchange system in 1946 — honors achievers in “excellence in customer service, operations and management,” according to the NEX Web site.

Winners are named in overseas and stateside categories and are broken down by sales.

Sasebo’s awards fell into the overseas $16 million to $61 million group in 2005 and the $23 million to $75 million award in 2006.

Franklin is getting ready to retire in three weeks after a 31-year run with the Navy Exchange, 11 of which were spent in Japan between Yokosuka Naval Base and Sasebo.

She’s going to miss the easy friendship of military base life as she moves back to the Pacific Northwest, she said.

Born in Scotland, she is U.S. citizen and married to a Navy man who retired in 1978, she said.

Franklin demurs in allowing herself credit for the Bingham awarded under her leadership, bowing instead to teamwork she says will allow her to leave Sasebo in good hands.

“We’re not the only ones who get awards — a lot of people get awards on our base,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful base, and I’m honored to leave it the way it is.”

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