Sailors man the rails aboard the amphibious-assault ship USS Wasp as it returns to Sasebo, Japan, April 26, 2018.

Sailors man the rails aboard the amphibious-assault ship USS Wasp as it returns to Sasebo, Japan, April 26, 2018. (Daniel Barker/U.S. Navy photo)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Incoming first-term sailors assigned to sea duty in Japan, Guam or Spain will now be required to serve up to four years at their new commands, the Navy announced Tuesday. The change – which affects first-term sailors in those countries who receive orders issued May 1, 2018 or later – aims to “improve readiness and reduce turnover of our Forward Deployed Naval Force,” the service said. Previously, the standard tour length was three years for such servicemembers. Sailors stationed in the affected countries will continue to serve out the rest of their two- or three-year deployments, the Navy said. Affected sailors whose dependents are denied command sponsorship will be issued a maximum of two years unaccompanied orders, the service said. In February, the Navy started allowing accompanied tours for those E3 and below. Those without dependents will receive the full four years. While some affected sailors may feel frustration, other seamen – such as aviation electronics technician third class Andrew Whitehead, who serves on the USS Ronald Reagan – say it’s just part of the job. “If it’s what we gotta do, it’s what we gotta do. This is what we all signed up for,” Whitehead said. “They told me in recruiting that I could be with a ship for three or four years, and I still joined anyway.” Vice Adm. Robert Burke, who serves as chief of Naval Personnel and deputy chief of Naval Operations, first told sailors of the Navy’s intent to extend tour lengths during a January town-hall meeting in Yokosuka. “A sailor gets [to Japan and] they’re taking 12 to 18 months to learn their training and then maybe doing their job for a short months period of time before it’s time for them to move again,” Burke said in January. “That puts the commands in a state of continuously having to train up their people and not having a seasoned, experienced crew that can train up the new junior folks.” After two collisions of 7th Fleet ships caused 17 sailor deaths last year, experts recommended changes to improve training and manning. In reports on the crashes, issues such as deficient and ineffective training and unprepared crews were cited as contributing factors. 7th Fleet spokesman Cdr. Clay Doss said the tour extension will allow extra time for sailors early in their careers to develop as seamen. "From a Seventh Fleet perspective, longer tours for sailors reporting to their first sea duty assignments gives them and their commands several years of continuity to sharpen skills and increase overall readiness,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Cdr. Clay Doss. Those who were assigned to sea duty in Japan, Guam or Spain before May 1 will be eligible for incentives to extend their tours. In February, the Navy offered to waive any remaining sea time on tour lengths and guarantee shore duty for the next assigned tour if sailors opted to extend their tours to four years. Those extending tours by a year or more are given preferential consideration for announced billets in the Career Management System/Interactive Detailing, a web-based system used to view and apply for jobs. “Our goal is to reward those sailors who volunteer to extend to meet the demands from the fleet," Rear Adm. John Meier, director of the Career Management Department for the Navy Personnel Command, said in February. Post-May 1 first-term sailors are not eligible for the extension incentives, but will have any remaining prescribed sea tour from their first sea duty tour waived. They will become eligible for the incentives after completing their first tour. Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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