CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The commander of U.S. Forces Japan says curfew and alcohol restrictions, imposed on servicemembers around the country following a spate of off-base crime and misbehavior last year, may be permanent.
Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella told Stars and Stripes during an interview Thursday he is not considering any changes to a ban on all off-base drinking from midnight to 5 a.m. and a late-night curfew for troops ranked E-5 and below at bases across mainland Japan.
However, stricter alcohol policies for Okinawa-based servicemembers may someday be eased to match the rules on the mainland, he said.
USFJ and the services imposed a curfew throughout Japan in October following the gang-rape of an Okinawan woman by two sailors. New restrictions on drinking followed amid a string of embarrassing off-base incidents that included drunken home invasions and public disturbances.
The military eased the initial liberty restrictions on mainland Japan in February, and those rules are likely to remain in place.
“Right now, I don’t have any plans to change the liberty policy throughout the rest of Japan. I think we’ve got it about right,” Angelella said during a visit to Okinawa. “I see it as more of an inconvenience to our young servicemembers rather than a real crisis for them.”
Okinawa-based troops are subject to the same enlisted curfew. A six-month ban on all off-base drinking was lifted in early June to allow two alcohol drinks with dinner at off-base restaurants between 6-10 p.m. Any drinking at bars and clubs is still not allowed.
The liberty policy may again be eased to a midnight-to-5 a.m. drinking ban depending on the behavior of servicemembers and the desires of the Japanese government, which had called on the U.S. to rein in the behavior of the roughly 48,000 servicemembers stationed in the country, Angelella said.
“I’m going to have to wait and see how we do here in the future,” he said. “I think over time, if the situation warrants, we might be able to get to the point where the liberty policy throughout Japan is the same.”
Troops in the Pacific typically account for a small fraction of crime in host countries, but any off-base behavior, especially violent crimes, can trigger public outcry —- and new liberty rules. U.S. forces in South Korea have been under a 1-5 a.m. curfew since 2011 following a rash of servicemember crimes that included two rape cases.
In Japan, the liberty restrictions started in October when two sailors deployed on temporary duty to Okinawa raped and robbed a local woman outside her apartment near Kadena Air Base. In the weeks and months that followed, public resentment was fueled by other incidents, such as an airman drunkenly barging into a Japanese apartment and punching a teen in the face.
The incidents caused friction in Japan at a time when the United States is depending on the long-time ally to be a key partner in its ongoing military pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.