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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 29, 2005

Bentlyville man runs base in Japan

Yokosuka crucial to U.S. and allies

By Joe Smydo

About 150 years after Commodore Perry opened Japan to the world, Navy Capt. Gregory Cornish helps to keep the ships coming and going.

Cornish, a Bentleyville native, is commander of Fleet Activities Yokosuka, described as the largest and most strategically important naval installation outside of the United States. The 568-acre base lies at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, 43 miles south of the Japanese capital and near the place Perry landed in 1853.

Yokosuka is headquarters of the Seventh Fleet, including the nation's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk. About 24,000 sailors, civilian dependants and Japanese civilians live at Yokosuka or work at its shipyard, hospital, schools, scientific centers and military commands.

Cornish, 49, a 1973 graduate of Monongahela Valley Catholic High School and 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, took command of the base about four months ago.

Like an American mayor, Cornish oversees security, recreation and streets, making regular television appearances to discuss his policies and other news. As a mayor works with other government agencies, institutions and businesses, Cornish works with "tenant commands" at Yokosuka.

The Seventh Fleet, Ship Repair Facility, U.S. Fleet and Industrial Supply Center, U.S. Naval Hospital and Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center operate independently. But shore and sea commands contact Cornish with base-related problems.

With 24,000 people living and working on a base that's a beehive of activity, "you have issues," Cornish said on a recent visit with his parents, Frank and Katherine Cornish, of Bentleyville.

Cornish had been stationed around the country and in Europe on assignments that ranged from naval recruiting to command of a frigate, minesweepers and a squadron.

The assignment at Yokosuka, once an imperial Japanese navy base, has taken him farthest from home and given him the heaviest responsibility. His father called the job "the chance of a lifetime."

Still, the younger Cornish said he sometimes yearned for the world beyond the piers. "I'm a sailor," he said, "and sailors miss being at sea."

Activity at the base revolves around support of naval forces representing U.S. interests in the western Pacific and support of allies Japan, South Korea and Australia. Besides commander of the Seventh Fleet, Yokosuka is home to commanders of a submarine group, a destroyer squadron and U.S. naval forces in Japan.

The Web site at www.globalsecurity.org and the installation's Web site at www.cfay.navy.mil call Yokosuka the Navy's most important overseas installation, so crucial to regional stability that Japan has contributed billions of dollars toward its operation.

Yokosuka has the largest shipyard and supply center in the western Pacific, and the installation operates the Defense Department's largest Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program, the Navy's largest Command Religious Program and the biggest revenue-producing overseas Navy Exchange, according to the Web sites.

Cornish, whose wife, Jane, lives with him at Yokosuka, also has a constituency off base. He said he spent much of his time as a goodwill ambassador in Japanese communities, such as dressing in Samurai attire for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

While some Japanese resent the continuing U.S. presence in their country, Cornish said that wasn't the case in communities around his installation. He said the Japanese annually celebrate the anniversary of Perry's arrival and appreciate the security the Navy provides.

Cornish said he probably would retire when his command of Yokosuka ends in about two years. In about a year, he said, he'll start evaluating new career possibilities.

That kind of analysis led him to the Navy nearly 30 years ago. "It was just an option, something that intrigued me, so I went and did it," he said.


Copyright 2005, PG Publishing Co., Inc.