YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — U.S. military leaders are considering relaxing liberty restrictions in Japan, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Monday.
The policy requires servicemembers E-5 and below to have a “liberty buddy” with them if they go out between 7 p.m. and midnight and to be back on base or in a private residence or hotel room between midnight and 5 a.m. It is unpopular but has been credited with cutting off-base incidents.
The curfew was imposed after the October 2012 rape of an Okinawan woman by two visiting U.S. sailors.
Asked by a sailor how he would feel about the measure if he were a sailor, Mabus told an all-hands call at Yokosuka Naval Base that the curfew was imposed for the right reasons.
“The leadership here is working on seeing if we can relax that to some extent,” he said.
“The people who can get it relaxed are sitting in this room right now,” he said, noting that continued good behavior would be the key.
“I’m proud of the way sailors and Marines have responded to the last two years,” he said. “I think it is the view of the leadership here that there should be some sort of relaxation.”
Japan is a great duty station, and sailors are eager to see the country and participate in local culture, he said.
“I understand it is hard in terms of when you are outside the wire,” Mabus said, cautioning: “One bad act affects everybody.”
Sailors listening to Mabus didn’t sound hopeful that things would change soon.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Deandre Westmoreland, 22, said he’s heard since last year that the curfew was under review. He doesn’t think it’s effective in cutting bad behavior.
“I feel like there are more incidents now, with the curfew in effect, than before it was imposed,” he said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class David Law, 21, said he preferred the liberty rules that were in place when he arrived at Yokosuka, before the curfew was imposed.
Back then, young sailors could gain more liberty by earning qualifications at work, he said.
Sailors with white cards had to be in by midnight, those with green cards could stay out until 2 a.m. and those with blue cards could stay out all night, he said.
“It made you feel responsible,” Law said, adding that he worked hard and qualified for a blue card only to see the system abolished when the curfew was instituted shortly after that.