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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — In an effort to save money in its permanent-change-of-station budget, the Air Force plans to slow the pace of personnel moves beginning this year, the U.S. Forces Japan commander said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, also 5th Air Force commander, acknowledged reassignments would slow in targeted areas but said “I could not tell you specifics” about dates, career fields and bases.

“Air Force members should stay in close touch with their chain of command because it could change,” he said. “This may be a great opportunity for some airmen to stay in Japan a little longer, but the needs of the Air Force come first.”

According to an internal notice obtained by Stars and Stripes, the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, is analyzing recent PCS budget initiatives directed by the Air Force chief of staff. Assignment programs are under review and may be adjusted to meet new budget constraints. It could result in delaying some changes of station.

During a media interview Friday, Wright also discussed USFJ efforts to end misbehavior by U.S. servicemembers outside the gates, February’s deployment of a dozen F-22A Raptors to Okinawa and President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

“The United States of America can be proud of what we’ve accomplished there,” he said. “The defeat of Saddam and the free elections taking place in Iraq, we need to put that in context. We have a tough challenge right now. … But it’s important to remember we’re fighting for an ideal that all are created equal, with freedom and democracy for all to enjoy.”

Wright welcomed the announcement that 12 F-22A Raptors will be deployed to Kadena Air Base in early February for several months of training with the Air Force, Navy and Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

He said no specific regional event or threat prompted the deployment, that “this has been planned for some time … to expose our U.S.-based aircrews to a Pacific flying environment. We’ve gotten a lot of real good results from rotating U.S. military personnel in and out of Japan.”

The Air Force has no plans to permanently station the fighters in the Pacific, he added, although officials are examining possibly basing the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Kadena around 2014.

A year after a Yokosuka Naval Base sailor was convicted in the beating death of a 56-year-old Japanese woman, Wright said USFJ leaders have improved how U.S. servicemembers conduct themselves.

“We’ve had low rates of incidents,” he said, citing programs such as Living Well in Japan, which provides positive direction to junior enlisted personnel.

“It’s powerful … and meant to encourage the high standards most of our members hold,” Wright said. “There’s been a stronger, clearer, more consistent message that it’s important to behave and live well in Japan. … It’s a gift to live in Japan.”

Wright also said realignment plans for U.S. forces in Japan continue to move forward, adding, “We’ve reaffirmed the ideals of this alliance. … We’ve laid down a great path to continuing our common strategic objectives.”

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