A Japanese employee uses a high pressure washer on a truck at Sagami Depot.

A Japanese employee uses a high pressure washer on a truck at Sagami Depot. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

As commander of the 35th Supply and Service Battalion at Sagami Depot, Lt. Col. Mary Whitworth had dual goals: To look at both the past and future.

She relied on history to familiarize her soldiers with their unit’s traditions of service and honor — while setting the stage for the battalion’s modernization in the wake of Sept. 11.

Whitworth, who functions as the installation commander, is moving on to teach at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She’ll hand over command to Lt. Col. Lee Stockland during a ceremony today at Sagami Depot.

Whitworth leaves Stockland, who joins the battalion from the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., a series of improvements to both the installation’s buildings and quality of life.

During the past two years, Whitworth made it her project to discover the histories of both the depot and the battalion. Today, murals lining the walls of the headquarters building depict those events.

One result: “She’s taught the soldiers to have pride in the unit they belong to,” said Scott Oestringer, the depot’s installation manager. “She’s been a great mentor.”

Whitworth also helped create the Sagami Samurai Society, designed to uphold the battalion’s traditions and lineage and build unit cohesion. Membership requires eating a live goldfish — which represent war gods — and drinking a symbolic tea that includes 7-Up, to embody the seven Army values.

The 35th Supply and Service Battalion, part of the Okinawa-based 10th Area Support Group, boasts about 70 soldiers and U.S. civilians and hundreds of Japanese contract employees. Sagami Depot, sitting a few miles from Camp Zama, is home to 88 families and just a few single people, all officers or civilians.

To improve life there, Whitworth found an unused building on base that could replace the shoppette, which almost closed. It went from operating five days a week to seven.

She spearheaded the renovation of a chapel to bring church services to the post for the first time in years. Services now are held twice a month.

Whitworth credits her command for the improvements. As part of U.S. Army Japan, Sagami shares funding with Sagamihara Housing Area and Camp Zama.

“With Gen. Miller [Maj. General Thomas Miller, commander of USARJ] came a philosophy of equality that was a really great change for us,” she said.

Stockland agrees.

“I’m absolutely excited to be here,” he said. “This is a great battalion with great leaders.”

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