Navy reviews liberty policy for personnel in Japan
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy is coordinating with U.S. Forces Japan on a liberty policy that would apply to all services, as the military continues to deal with the fallout from allegations that two sailors raped a Japanese woman on Okinawa earlier this month.
While senior officials develop a new policy, a curfew enacted Friday by USFJ supersedes all Navy liberty rules in Japan, Navy spokesman Cmdr. KC Marshall said Wednesday.
The curfew requires all U.S. servicemembers in Japan to be on base, or in their off-base residence between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“We’re doing a full review of liberty policies across services,” Marshall said. “We will come up with a combined policy.”
According to Okinawa police, Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, both 23, assaulted and raped a woman early in the morning near her apartment on Oct. 16. The news of the allegations quickly spurred protests in Okinawa, an island where civic groups and local officials were already demonstrating against the deployment of the Osprey, a U.S. Marines hybrid aircraft that suffered two accidents elsewhere this year.
Just four days before the alleged rape, the Navy lifted a liberty program at the regional level that had required sailors in pay grades E-1 though E-4 to receive command approval to be out past midnight.
However, Browning and Dozierwalker were still operating under the liberty program at their unit’s discretion, Marshall said.
“We stopped mandating it at the region and fleet level,” Marshall said. “The intent was to allow individual commanders to make the decision.”
An Oct. 12 memo issued by 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Scott Swift and Commander Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. Dan Cloyd stated that the program was being canceled at the regional level because it “treats all E4 and junior sailors as if they are expected to engage in misconduct — this occurs in only a very small minority of E4 and junior sailors.”
Both sailors accused of the rape had received cultural briefings upon entering Japan, Marshall added. The sailors were in the country on temporary duty from Fort Worth Naval Air Base, Texas.
Sailors based in Japan receive a mandatory weeklong course on living in the country.
Following a meeting with Cloyd on Tuesday, Okinawa Vice Gov. Kanetoshi Yoseda pointed out that the liberty card policy had not stopped the alleged incident.
Yoseda then called on the U.S. to reduce the number of servicemembers in Okinawa. There are approximately 50,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel in Okinawa, an island with a population of about 1.4 million. The island is considered strategically critical to U.S. military planners because of its proximity and short flight radius to Taiwan, Southeast Asia and the Korean peninsula.