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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — An advance team from USS George Washington spent last week visiting Yokosuka-based commands and facilities and experiencing Japan in preparation for the ship’s scheduled arrival here next summer.

“This visit is really about seeing what Yokosuka has to offer,” said Cmdr. Ed Burns, George Washington’s homeport-change coordinator.

But the visit followed months of communication with USS Kitty Hawk’s Alongside Team.

"We have been liaising with them since late July,” said Alongside Team leader Cmdr. Bob Stailey, “passing along points of contact and allowing crew members to ask each other questions.”

“It seemed to me that the GW team was here to get as much information as possible, so they could bring it back and pass it along to the rest of the crew,” Stailey said.

That was indeed the team’s mission, said George Washington spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Bill Urban, adding that the 11-person team included a mix of enlisted and officers “to get a good cross-section of the crew … to help prepare the ship’s crew for life in Japan.”

Although families became eligible to begin moving to Japan Oct. 1, Urban said that due to housing and manning issues, the earliest he expected anyone to begin the transition would be January.

“I think the majority of families with children will move during the summer,” Urban said. “That way the children could start classes at the beginning of the school year.”

Urban added that the ship was working to enable crewmembers and their families to move directly into housing, avoiding an extended stay in temporary lodging.

The team also met with Carrier Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Richard Wren to discuss the broad scope of missions of a forward-deployed aircraft carrier.

“Essentially, when USS George Washington arrives, it will become the flagship for the battle force of Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet,” said CTF 70 spokeswoman Cmdr. Jensin Sommer. “That is an important difference than back in the States.”

The George Washington sailors also spent time exploring the base facilities, gaining an understanding of Seventh Fleet’s liberty policy and checking out what life is like off base.

“Compared to Norfolk, over here is awesome,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Patenge said. “The movie theater and the exchange are so close, but also you can take a train to Yokohama or Tokyo.”

As for the liberty policy, Petty Officer 1st Class Tommy Smith said she didn’t think it would be an issue because of Homeport Ashore Initiative, which allows shipboard sailors to live on base.

New arrivals in ranks E-4 and below must carry a white card during a probation period that can last up to 90 days. White-card holders must be back on base by midnight each day. Blue cards carry overnight liberty` privileges.

To earn a blue card, junior sailors during their probation period must complete Navy drug abuse and alcohol prevention training, meet proper grooming and uniform standards and receive no nonjudicial punishments.

“In Norfolk, many sailors don't have the opportunity of live off the ship,” Smith said. “But here, if you follow the liberty policy and earn your qualifications, you can move into an apartment. That’s what I call an incentive.”

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