Okinawa troops banned from bars after midnight
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Servicemembers on Okinawa have been banned from bars and clubs after midnight in a crackdown announced Friday to curb off-post alcohol-related incidents.
The midnight-to-5 a.m. prohibition, which covers all branches of the military on Okinawa and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Camp Fuji in mainland Japan, applies to any establishment where the “primary business is the sale and consumption of alcohol,” the Marine Corps announced in a statement.
Restaurants that also serve alcohol were not included in the liberty restriction, said Lt. Col. Douglas Powell, spokesman for the Marine Corps on Okinawa.
But, he warned, “Just because they sell a Slim Jim behind the bar, that does not make it a restaurant.”
Punishment for violators will be determined by unit commanders based on individual circumstances, according to Powell, who said the prohibition will remain indefinitely.
Marine Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, the senior U.S. military commander on Okinawa, ordered the prohibition Friday after a monthlong review found that most off-base misconduct and accidents on the island happened between midnight and 5 a.m., the Marine Corps said.
Even though Japanese crime statistics for Okinawa show a decrease in recent years of crimes committed by servicemembers, even minor incidents can stoke anti-U.S.military tensions that already are running high as local citizens and politicians clamor for a reduced presence of the military on Okinawa.
In 2008, a string of alcohol- and bar-related incidents — including two alleged rapes — caused the Marine Corps to order a monthlong ban on off-base drinking.
More recently, several accidents and run-ins with Japanese police have occurred. For example, two Marines were arrested in March near Camp Kinser for drunken driving and interfering with law enforcement. Two days later, a Navy petty officer was accused of being drunk and fleeing the scene when her Humvee hit a Japanese family’s vehicle near Camp Schwab.
Robling ordered every unit on the island to be trained on how to behave off base following those incidents.
This week, the mayors of Okinawa City and Chatan, which both host military bases, demanded even more action, said Mitsuru Kishimoto, spokesman for Chatan Mayor Masaharu Noguni.
They met with Col. Kevin Bishop, chief of the Okinawa Area Field Office — which represents U.S. Forces Japan concerns. The mayors underscored public alarm over the number of crimes and accidents, Kishimoto said.
In Chatan, U.S. servicemembers were linked to 10 serious crimes in 2009, including cab driver robberies, Kishimoto said.
The Marine Corps said it is now considering more patrols by uniformed servicemembers in areas such as Chatan. The so-called courtesy patrols go into establishments and walk the streets in groups of three or four usually during the night in areas popular during off-duty hours.
Kozo Senda, manager of a Chatan beer tavern frequented by Americans, said the military liberty policies have been on his mind since he started his job 10 years ago.
“Every time, when I hear about any incident that involves Americans, it worries me,” he said. “Although it is not just Americans who cause trouble, but when they do, it certainly is blown up here.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.