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Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter spoke with Stars and Stripes during his Wednesday visit to Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

The Navy said earlier this year that placing individual augmentees into global war on terrorism support assignments was a top priority. Is that still true and do you expect more sailors to be offered — or forced — into the GSAs in the near future?

First, there are two things you are talking to. One of which is the way we select and position individual augmentees, and there we are making a significant change. We are going to the GSA approach where we are being able to better integrate them into the normal PCS-type rotation, both to be able to minimize the impact on the individual sailor but also to be able to manage the process and improve the support to the family.

The other thing that we are very mindful of is to be sure to give sailors the proper credit for what they are doing as IAs or GSA assignees. I watch very carefully some of the critical statistics. For example, taking a look at promotion rates to chief this year.

There is a very significant difference between those who have done an IA tour and those who have not, which is a good indication to me that we are in fact giving proper credit to those who make the effort to become IAs.

Will there be any new support programs or aid for deploying and returning IAs?

We are trying to provide services not only to the individual servicemembers but also to their families.

A lot of effort is going on right now in terms of outreach, being able to make sure the individual families know what is available to them whether or not they are living in the fleet concentration area where the support is easy to come to or whether they are living perhaps by themselves far from a Navy installation.

Protesters are expected to gather at Yokosuka Naval Base to greet the USS George Washington. The USS Houston, a nuclear submarine, caused outcry when it leaked small amounts of radiation at Japanese ports. Are you concerned the nuclear issue is affecting our military relationship with Japan, and is the U.S. Navy doing enough to allay Japanese concerns?

I have no concerns whatsoever relative to the safety of our ships.

I think much has been made about the leakage or seepage on the Houston. The amount of radiation that was leaked was truly insignificant and undetectable by any mechanism.

I think we just need to be able to continue to communicate such matters. We are open and transparent, and that is part of the reason we got the information out even though the overall radiation leak was undetectable by anybody.

Earlier this year, a fire aboard the USS George Washington did serious damage and delayed the ship’s deployment to Japan. Will there be any changes to ensure a higher level of safety aboard Navy ships, especially nuclear-powered aircraft carriers?

We have gone through an investigation, and we have taken the appropriate corrective action relative to the specifics of what happened on GW. Also, we are taking a look at our overall policies and procedures for shipboard regulations and other activities to make sure that we are taking full advantage of the lesson learned in that incident.

You recommended Sgt. Raphael Peralta, an Okinawa-based Marine killed while serving in Iraq, for the Medal of Honor. But the nomination has been rejected. What’s your reaction to that decision, and do you still believe Peralta deserved the country’s highest honor?

We have a very high standard for the Medal of Honor. Basically, it’s got to be an absolute certainty without any question, and I think there are certain issues that have come up … I am absolutely certain of the events that took place and of his heroism.

I had no problem signing off on the Navy Cross, but at the same time, I understand the difficulty of being able to reach the level of certainty that the Medal of Honor requires.


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