The new “Shipmates” identification card. “Shipmates” puts 20 sailors in Yokosuka’s hot spots every night who are instructed to give potential troublemakers a nonpunitive ride home.

The new “Shipmates” identification card. “Shipmates” puts 20 sailors in Yokosuka’s hot spots every night who are instructed to give potential troublemakers a nonpunitive ride home. (U.S. Navy)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The card reads, “This Shipmate is Here to Help You.”

The plainclothes sailor flashes the identification card, tells you why he or she approached you, then offers you a lift home under the new “CTF-70 Shipmates” program starting this week at Yokosuka Naval Base.

The directive is designed to be a preventive strike against U.S. Navy liberty incidents in Yokosuka. Every night, about 20 selected “shipmates” will walk around Yokosuka from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., scouting out potential troublemakers before anything happens.

They aren’t law enforcement, said CTF-70 Chief of Staff Dave Volonino. They are more like “guardian angels” looking out for status-of-forces-agreement personnel, he said.

“The whole idea is to avoid incidents. In the Navy, we’ve learned that taking care of our people on liberty is just as challenging as taking care of them on ships,” Volonino said. “We’re hoping that people see this program for what it is. These people are guardian angels who are trying to save careers and stop problems before they start.”

Those chosen for the collateral duty are first- and second-class petty officers trained to look for those overindulging in alcohol and other risky behaviors, said Carrier Strike Group 5 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. John Bernard. On any given night, six shipmates from the USS Kitty Hawk, representatives from the nine other ships in the Kitty Hawk Strike Group and staff from CTF-70 and DESRON 15 will walk through places such as Yokosuka’s Honch and train stations.

Shipmates are not to be confused with shore patrol, as they will call shore patrol if the person they approach is uncooperative, Bernard said.

“If someone is resisting, the shipmates will give him a couple of chances,” Bernard said. “If he gets belligerent, we’ll call shore patrol. But, hopefully, people will realize that means your name in the blotter, whereas ‘Shipmates’ is not another way to get your name in front of the boss.”

The measure joins a number of liberty policies set in motion last winter after several alcohol-related U.S. Navy liberty incidents, including the Jan. 3 robbery-killing of a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman, to which a USS Kitty Hawk airman has admitted in court.

Rear Adm. James Kelly, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, enacted a general order prohibiting active-duty military in Yokosuka from public alcohol consumption during certain hours.

A 1 a.m. curfew, liberty plans and an off-base liberty-buddy requirement also were mandated for the 8,500 sailors in the Kitty Hawk Strike Group. Call-for-help phone cards bearing the chain-of-command phone number recently were given to strike-group sailors.

Though these policies currently remain in place, “Shipmates” will change with the times if the strike group curfew is lifted, Volonino said.

“We might change our times or change our locations,” Volonino said. “We’ll flex this program however we feel it’s appropriate.”

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