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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Restrictions like drinking cutoffs and liberty buddies — old hat for the formerly Japan-based crew of the USS Kitty Hawk — were introduced to USS George Washington sailors last week in a dry run of what’s to come.

The two aircraft carriers are now in the middle of a hull swap in San Diego, as the George Washington will take Kitty Hawk’s place as the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the western Pacific.

During the weeklong swap, the crews of both aircraft carriers observed a few liberty restrictions to prepare new sailors for what’s ahead when the George Washington reaches Japan this fall, the Navy said.

"We wanted to treat San Diego like a liberty port," said Lt. Cmdr. K.C. Marshall, spokesman for Commander Task Force 70, the George Washington’s forward-deployed strike group.

The policies include mandatory liberty buddies when drinking alcohol, no public drinking past midnight on work days and an off-the-street curfew of 2 a.m., George Washington spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bill Urban said.

Although crewmembers have been on shore duty in San Diego for several months, they were neither "surprised" nor "disappointed" with the new rules, Urban said.

"We have been looking at this for a year now and have done a full-court press to get our crew ready to hit these liberty expectations," Urban said.

"We haven’t seen any problems with it. We’ve been in San Diego for a long time, and everyone is concentrating on working to get out of here."

Ship repairs have kept the George Washington in San Diego after a May 22 fire caused $70 million in damage to 80 of the carrier’s 3,800 spaces.

The Navy announced last month that smoking, combined with improper storage of flammable liquids, started the fire.

The carrier’s commanding officer and executive officer were subsequently removed from their posts and replaced.

In addition to the shore-based restrictions on public drinking, the George Washington will officially fall under 7th Fleet’s liberty policy when the crew arrives in Yokosuka "to serve as the centerpiece of the Forward Deployed Naval Force," said 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Cate Wallace.

In short, the policy requires sailors E-4 and below to carry color-coded liberty cards ranging from white — sailors must be in quarters by midnight — to blue cards, granting overnight liberty.

Sailors generally don’t get a blue card until they’ve attended orientation and alcohol training and have demonstrated good behavior for 90 days.

"As guests in a foreign country we must respect host nation traditions, laws and standards of acceptable behavior," Wallace said in an e-mail to Stripes.

"What we do in our host nations is a reflection of our sailors and their families, the U.S. Navy, and the United States."

Coming from duty in the less restrictive United States, liberty restrictions in Japan "can be annoying" for sailors who aren’t troublemakers, said Yokosuka sailor Petty Officer 2nd Class Dan, Lehmkuhl who came to Japan from Norfolk, Va., three years ago.

But Lehmkuhl said he understands the restrictions, as any crime, big or small, committed overseas by servicemembers reflects poorly on the United States, he said.

"My advice is to come here with a guest mentality," Lehmkuhl said. "If you respect the rules and are courteous, you won’t have any problem."

The George Washington is scheduled to reach Yokosuka near the end of September.


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