Vinson makes port call at Yokosuka
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Just days after absorbing almost 6,000 sailors back from deployments to the Persian Gulf, Yokosuka got 6,000 more.
On Saturday, the USS Carl Vinson anchored in waters just off the base, disgorging thousands of sailors on liberty boats for a scheduled port visit.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier from Bremerton, Wash., put to sea Jan. 13. Since February, it has been operating in the Western Pacific, “back-filling” for the USS Kitty Hawk, which was dispatched to the Persian Gulf.
Yokosuka officials said they were ready for the influx; a variety of tours, activities and events are planned for Vinson crewmembers. Base residents expect long lines at cash machines, eateries and stores.
Asked about preparations, base spokesman Mike Chase ran down a list of Morale, Welfare and Recreation events and said retail store hours would be expanded to accommodate the temporary increase.
“Other than that, it’s business as usual,” Chase said.
Yokosuka MWR athletics director Kyle Rhodus said a full slate of sporting competitions between the Kitty Hawk and Carl Vinson battle groups begin Sunday.
“We’ll have a softball tournament, basketball, soccer … it’s all round robin stuff,” Rhodus said. “It’s a way to keep them all busy and we’ll also have a golf tournament and 5-K Run, and at those, prizes will be awarded.”
“This kind of competition between battle groups in port can get a little heated,” Rhodus said. “It can be real exciting and there’s a lot of pride involved. And of course, there’s the desire to protect your home turf.”
The Vinson visit also could mean big money for local establishments. When the ship made a port call to Guam in April, Chamber of Commerce officials said the sailors pumped up to $500,000 per day into the local economy.
But not everyone is happy to see the “Chucky V,” as some call the carrier, drop anchor off Yokosuka.
Anti-nuclear protestors — organizers say they expect up to 2,000 — are expected to gather in Yokosuka and demonstrate against the ship’s arrival. In recent months, Japanese media has been rife with speculation that when the Kitty Hawk is decommissioned, a nuclear-powered carrier will replace it.
Navy officials consistently have denied any decision has been made about the Kitty Hawk’s replacement, scheduled to happen in 2007 or 2008.
The last time a nuclear carrier visited Japan was August 2002, when the USS Abraham Lincoln made a five-day stop at Sasebo.
On Wednesday, the Kanagawa Prefecture-City Liaison Conference on U.S. Military Bases sent a “letter of request” about the Vinson visit to Rear Adm. Robert Chaplin, head of U.S. Naval Forces Japan.
The letter listed three concerns: Air traffic from the carrier to Naval Air Facility Atsugi; possible danger to smaller vessels in Tokyo Bay; and sailors’ conduct ashore.
The letter was signed by several political officials including Kanagawa Prefecture’s governor and Yokohama’s mayor.
Jon Nylander, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Japan, confirmed the Navy received the letter. He also said he was unsure whether the Vinson’s aircraft would be flying but said they usually don’t during port calls or anchorages.
The issue of conduct ashore appears to be a major concern to Navy officials, who’ve indicated they hope a good-natured rivalry between carrier crews does not turn ugly.
As the USS Kitty Hawk headed home last week, commanding officer Capt. Thomas Parker repeatedly reminded his sailors to treat the Vinson crew as brothers.
“Remember,” Parker said over the ship’s PA system, “the Vinson is not the enemy. Saddam was.”
— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.
Let the games begin
The first game of the 13-team USS Carl Vinson Battle Group Challenge Softball Tournament begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, with the finals set for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.
All games will be played at Yokosuka’s Main Softball Field.
The MWR-sponsored, 10-team USS Carl Vinson Battle Group Challenge Basketball Tournament starts at 1 p.m. Sunday.
All games take place on the Fleet Gym’s Court A.
The tournament’s last game begins at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
All the soccer action unfolds at Ikego Field #3, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, when the Vinson’s Reactor Team takes on Yokosuka’s Seahawks.
The tourney ends at 7 p.m. Monday as the Reactor Team takes on the Kitty Hawk.
The golf tournament gets under way Monday at 7:30 a.m. on Atsugi Naval Air Facility’s Whispering Pines Golf Course.
The 5-K Run begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Thew Gymnasium.
— From staff reports