By Coleen R. San Nicolas-Perez
Commander, Navy Installations Command Public Affairs
When you dig into the heart and soul of Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, one can easily describe the installation in a single word – chowa.
The Japanese word chowa means “harmony.” To be exact, chowa translated is “a spirit of harmonious partnership,” and that is where the base’s story begins – with a partnership between two nations.
For the installation, this mutually beneficial and peaceful partnership between Japan and the United States began 75 years ago. During the Second World War, the base, which at the time was named Yokosuka Navy Yard, was about 280 acres and encompassed a shipbuilding plant, gun factory, ordnance depot and a fuel storage, to name a few facilities. The shipyard back then was owned and operated by the Japanese Imperial Navy.
At the end of the war, Japan relinquished command of the shipyard as U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps personnel entered and occupied the base. Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka stood up the following year.
Seventy-five years later, the installation, which is commonly referred to as CFAY, has become home to more than 80 tenant commands, including afloat elements of U.S. Seventh Fleet, which is the largest of the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed fleets.
At any given time, Seventh Fleet can oversee 50 to70 ships and submarines, 150 aircraft and 20,000 Sailors within the area of responsibility. As the fleet focuses on operations at sea, the installation provides the necessary services to keep the ships pulling in and out, Sailors trained and mission-ready, and families supported with a range of quality of life programs.
“The challenge of providing extended support to Seventh Fleet missions is accomplished by an exceptional Japanese-U.S. workforce that has worked together for more than 75 years,” said Capt. Rich Jarrett, Jr., the base’s commanding officer. “Fleet Activities Yokosuka’s reputation for exceptional service to the fleet is evident in the wide variety of missions accomplished for naval units through the Indo-Pacific region.”
The installation provides a permanent homeport for Seventh Fleet’s 12 ships, including USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), the Blue Ridge-class command ship, and USS Ronald Regan (CVN 76), the Nimitz-class and only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier. The base’s footprint also includes 18 ship berths, 2,500 family housing units, four child development and youth centers, three fitness centers, a small arms training range and more than 1,400 buildings. In addition, CFAY boasts the largest U.S. military hospital in mainland Japan and the largest Morale, Welfare and Recreation program within the Department of Defense as well as four Department of Defense Education Activity schools.
Looking solely at the installation’s extensive portfolio, it is no wonder CFAY is considered one of if not the most operationally active, robust and lethal U.S. Navy bases.
“The agility of CFAY shore activities to respond to fleet needs is a force multiplier for the ships that sail from Yokosuka harbor,” said Jarrett, who has served in the Navy for 24 years. “Yokosuka’s strategic location and support capabilities allow operating forces to be 17 days closer to locations in the Indo-Pacific region than their continental United States counterparts. It takes several times the number of rotationally-based ships in the United States to equal the same presence and crisis-response capability as the forward-deployed ships in Japan.”
The base’s strategic location may be a key factor in the Navy’s continued readiness in the region, but geography cannot take full credit. If one were to ask, what is that one element that has made CFAY thrive these past 75 years, the answer is simple – it is the dedicated and capable personnel who make up Team CFAY.
“Motivated, resilient and professional,” is how CFAY’s Command Master Chief Derek F. Mullenhour describes the 500-plus Sailors assigned to the installation.
“CFAY is built upon a very diverse group of Sailors from all different types of backgrounds and rating specialties coming together to support the fleet, the fighters and the families,” said Mullenhour, who has been the installation’s top enlisted Sailor since July 2019. “Nowhere in the Navy do we do that better than right here at CFAY.”
Faces of CFAY
One of the many Sailors who stand out from a group of exceptional performers is Chief Boatswain’s Mate Christian Sherman, according to the base’s commanding officer. Sherman serves as tug master for the base’s port operations department, which in fiscal year 2020 executed more than 330 ship movements with no incidents.
“As a deck seaman at my first duty station, I saw the contractor tugs assist our ship in and out of port and I knew that I really wanted to do that one day,” said Sherman, who hails from Findley, Ohio. “I'm living a dream or goal of mine I set 13 years ago! I truly feel blessed to have this opportunity to be a tug master onboard CFAY.”
Fact: Tugs masters do not have easy jobs
They are highly trained to maintain and operate tugs to assist in mooring, docking, getting underway and cold iron moves. They are an example of a harmonious partnership between the base, its host nation and the fleet to ensure safe and efficient movement of Navy ships, submarines, barges and foreign vessels, while supporting ordnance loading and offloading as well as firefighting capabilities.
Bottom line – Navy ships and boats go nowhere without the tugs. It is no wonder CFAY’s tug crews and boat shop, which are made up of about 30 Sailors, are considered to be in a class of their own.
“These Sailors are nothing short of incredible, maintaining a focus and flexibility of mission support that I've seen senior Sailors have trouble on,” said Sherman, who has been with the command for slightly over a year. “Since I have arrived here, there has never been an instance where our yard tugs were not fully operative and capable to support movements here at
Yokosuka Harbor. That is a true testament to their commitment of mission readiness.”
CFAY is the Navy’s last tugboat operation that is solely ran by Sailors as other installations have contracted out the service. Although those in the Navy’s tug master program are said to be a dying breed, it does not stop Sherman and his shipmates from doing what they do best. In fact, it only makes them stand out even further.
“Whether it’s waking up at 0400 to begin your daily checks in support of a ship getting underway, towing an ammo barge to anchorage, or approaching a ship's pilot ladder for pilot embarkation at 2200 for a 2230 moor, we stand ready and willing to execute whatever the U.S. Navy needs,” Sherman said.
Also part of Team CFAY are the more than 700 Navy civilians and Japanese master labor contractors who help run and manage the housing program, security department, galley and liberty center to name a few. Among those civilian personnel is Shoy Allison Caldwell, who is the base’s ombudsman program coordinator and a family life specialist with CFAY’s Fleet and Family Support Center.
As a Navy spouse, Caldwell said she is passionate about supporting families, and has been able to do so through her professional role.
“It is very important to me that spouses and family members feel they have a voice and are represented and supported by their community members,” Caldwell said. “I always consider this the reason I come to work each day. In my latest role as ombudsman coordinator, I find great fulfillment in supporting the spouses that support their command’s family and service members.”
Caldwell has been a part of the CFAY team since 2011. She has witnessed a few of the most trying times for the nation and U.S. Navy, including the at-sea tragedies of USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62). Her husband served on the “Fighting Fitz” when the warship collided with a commercial vessel three years ago.
“CFAY really banded together to support families near and far,” she recounted. “During this time, a lot of community collaboration was needed and executed. Our community really came together as a whole to show solidarity and genuine love for the Sailors lost and families affected. I love that our CFAY community has always been one that shows up for its members.”
Fast-forward to today that same sense of harmony and partnership thrive even during a pandemic that the world has not experienced since the Spanish Flu in the early 1900s. Japan has been no exception to enduring loss and sickness as COVID-19 spreads throughout the world.
Despite the pandemic, Caldwell has been instrumental in providing continued support to the more than 22,000 Sailors, Navy civilians and family members who are on the installation and frequently turn to the base’s Fleet and Family Support Center for assistance. In response to COVID-19 and the installation’s shelter-in-place policy, Caldwell helped establish and coordinate the ombudsmen-led Family Partnership Program, which teamed up families to assist one another during the restrictions. As one family cares for and monitors each other’s children, the other family’s mom or dad is able to leave the kids at home in trusted care in order to fulfill necessary errands, such as grocery shopping. While the program was up and running, 58 families were registered in the program.
Knowing that there still is a need to provide classes and outreach to the many Sailors and families who call CFAY home, Caldwell and the FFSC team transitioned the various in-person courses to virtual. This includes moving CFAY’s area orientation brief and intercultural relations class online so that incoming families are informed about Japan’s customs and rules. For almost a year of operating and living in a COVID-19 environment, FFSC Yokosuka has hosted more than 208 webinars pertaining to stress management, financial management, transition assistance and more.
“This year has been a challenging one primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Caldwell said. “Our installation as a whole has had to revise and reorganize most of our day-to-day activities. As positive cases were rising in Japan, CFAY acted quickly and decisively to impart restrictions to keep us safe and our numbers low.”
CO: ‘Maintain Fleet Readiness’
Even facing a pandemic, operations must continue on all of the 70 Navy installations worldwide. At CFAY, leadership quickly implemented comprehensive health protection measures, such as quarantine, restriction of movement, health screenings and other actions, to prevent further transmission of the virus. At the same time, the base’s triad along with the CFAY team still ensured Seventh Fleet ships kept on sailing.
“Throughout this crisis, our community of Sailors, civilians and family members have been supportive of every effort and helped to maintain fleet readiness under challenging circumstances,” said Jarrett.
It is that chowa – the “harmonious partnership” – instilled in the foundation of Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka more than seven decades ago that has allowed a team to thrive even in the midst of a pandemic.
“Having never dealt with something like this before we have all learned how to adapt and find ways to be creative, to think outside the box in how we manage the day-to-day mission while simultaneously keeping the community safe,” said Mullenhour. “CFAY is built upon really bright and amazing people, so we leveraged everyone’s talents to come together as a team and created a plan from literally thin air to combat and prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the base. It is a total team effort here.”
Japan: Assignment of a Lifetime
From being part of an effective team and working side-by-side Japan’s navy to experiencing a new culture and learning the customs and traditions of one of America’s most essential allies are just a few of the reasons to explore an assignment at CFAY.
There is of course the Japanese cuisine of miso-based soup, sashimi (raw fish), yakitori, ramen noodles and kare-rais (curry rice) that attracts both tourists and newcomers. Described as oishi, which translated means “delicious,” Japan’s food is something almost everyone who interviewed for this news article raved about.
“And might I mention the food—always fresh, presentable and delicious!” Caldwell exclaimed. “There is quite a unique juxtaposition here when combining old and new. The Japanese do it very well and always with a sense of pride.”
There is also the gorgeous landscape that could literally take one’s breath away, such as Mount Fuji that stands more than 12,000 feet, and the city of Tokyo, located only 43 miles north of CFAY and the largest metropolis of Japan that mixes both tradition and modernity.
What interests most who either visit Japan or make a permanent change of station is the country’s rich history.
“As you move about the installation, there are so many details that unless you knew where to look you would just walk on by and never know the historical importance of that structure, monument, dry dock or building,” Mullenhour explained. “Once you begin to realize these things are here on the base, it inspires you to learn more about the long history of Yokosuka and the naval station Seventh Fleet calls home.”
Plus, don’t forget about those famous vending machines around every corner that sells all kinds of goodies, from ice cream and coffee to cups of ramen noodles and eggs with rice.
“Never pass up an opportunity to serve a tour here in Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan,” advised Mullenhour. “It is the best tour you will ever have!”
For more information about CFAY, visit www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrj/installations/cfa_yokosuka.html or follow the base on Facebook.