CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Local companies are paying servicemembers and their families to bring tourists onto military installations despite repeated warnings the activity is against the rules, according to Kadena Air Base officials.

The 18th Air Wing said it has denied “hundreds” of requests in recent weeks by status of forces agreement visa holders attempting to bring visitors on base who are paying for the access.

Companies such as American Pro and Friends Abroad International Cultural Exchange sell trips that offer American cultural experiences to students on mainland Japan, military officials said. The companies have recruited and paid SOFA members, mostly military spouses, to host the visiting students for a day and sponsor trips to military facilities, officials said.

The U.S. military on Okinawa has repeatedly warned the visits violate the international basing agreement between the United States and Japan.

“When sponsors sign somebody onto the installation without knowing their intentions or motivations, it puts the whole of Kadena at risk from not only a security standpoint but [it] also has the potential to impact our operational mission,” Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said Monday in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes.

The companies recruit SOFA members through popular websites like Japan Update and Okinawa Yard Sales and through word of mouth, Gulick said.

“At the peak of the issue during 2009, there were approximately 35 to 60 sponsors per day attempting to sign on visitors as part of the program,” he said. “That number has significantly dwindled. However, there has been a very slight upward trend recently.”

The Air Force issued a similar warning last January. As of Monday evening, the Marine Corps was unable to provide comment for this story.

Military ID cardholders who participate could be denied base access and face investigation by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Japanese government, the 18th Air Wing said.

Also, SOFA members are required to report off-base income to the government of Japan and could face administrative or legal reprimand if they do not claim pay from the cultural exchange tours, according to the air wing. It was not known Monday if anyone had been reprimanded in the past for bringing or attempting to bring tourists on base for a profit.

The tours have occurred at least since 2007, according to the social website Okinawa Hai, which hosts a page on the tours that includes a long list of user comments going back over three years.

Some site members have defended the paid exchanges through posts made under user names, saying they offer meaningful interaction with young Japanese who are truly interested in American culture. Other members said the visits are an obvious security concern.

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