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Green Beach pool, Yokosuka Naval Base's largest swimming pool, this summer costs $2 ($1 for children) as part of a base effort to make up for budget cuts and Navy-wide mandates to save money. But on Tuesday evening, the pool wasn't generating a lot of money in user fees.
Green Beach pool, Yokosuka Naval Base's largest swimming pool, this summer costs $2 ($1 for children) as part of a base effort to make up for budget cuts and Navy-wide mandates to save money. But on Tuesday evening, the pool wasn't generating a lot of money in user fees. (Nancy Montgomery / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The brunt of the burden for fighting the Iraq war has fallen mostly on soldiers and Marines. But Yokosuka sailors and their families also have started to pay, though in a less onerous way.

Starting several weeks ago, hours were reduced at the base auto and craft hobby shops. Prices for movies climbed from $2 to $3, user fees for activities such as softball teams increased and the price for a dip in any of the base swimming pools went from nothing to $2.

The reason?

“Cost-of-war cuts,” said Capt. King Dietrich, base commander. “We took a pretty good cut in MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation). We had cuts all across the region, cuts that I think went across the Navy. We have a bill to pay for continuing in Iraq, and everybody took a bogey.”

The Iraq war is not the sole reason for the cuts, Dietrich added, nor was MWR the only account whose budget was sliced.

The Navy has begun to look to bases to save money in a variety of ways on shore so that more can be spent at sea to modernize the fleet, Dietrich said, and that’s an effort that will continue for years. So the recent cuts could foreshadow more in the future.

“CNFJ is looking at every program at every base to find ways to do things better, eliminate excesses, streamline processes and just basically to operate as a more effective business,” said Cmdr. John Wallach, Commander Naval Forces Japan spokesman. “We are really taking a fiscal look at everything we do in the region. This is going to be an ongoing thing for years and years to come, where we try to squeeze more money out of the bases to give to the modernization effort.”

Dietrich said he learned last month that his base MWR budget of about $10 million was cut by $240,000. It was left to him to decide how to account for the decrease. “We said do we want to decrease service or try to generate revenues? We did a little of both,” he said.

One of his main goals in deciding how to deal with the cut, Dietrich said, was to keep programs for single sailors affordable. That means MWR funds will continue to subsidize ski trips, tours and the like. But that also meant that cheap or free activities on base were made slightly less so.

The swimming pool fees generated some complaints, Dietrich said, but they are justified by economics and base history — although swimming was free last summer, it has cost money in prior years and costs money at most bases. The pools are expensive to maintain and staff. “I am still losing almost a quarter million dollars to operate the pools,” he said. “All I’m doing is trying to lose less.”

Additionally, the pools remain free for lap swim from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

One thing that remains free at all hours is the base driving range. That’s partly because no one’s done the math yet to see if it would make sense to either hire a person or install equipment at the range for fee payment. “It’s not off the table for future cuts,” Dietrich said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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