Navy bases move to cut liberty incidents at night
August 6, 2004
NAPLES, Italy — Navy bases in Europe are taking steps to reduce late-night liberty incidents involving young sailors.
This week, some bases held all-hands calls with junior sailors to discuss how to avoid such incidents that have left four sailors dead in Europe this summer.
New measures include free bus runs to downtown Naples, and giving sailors alternatives to going off base. Rota, Spain, is beefing up its intramural sports programs, and Naples is extending its weekend on-base movie, gym and bar hours.
The bases held focus groups two weeks ago with sailors to discuss ideas, said Master Chief James Smith, chief of Naval Operations-directed master chief for Navy Region Europe.
“There wasn’t a cataclysmic event that pushed it over the edge,” Smith said. “We just want them to enjoy being overseas but do it in a safe environment.”
Smith said Navy leadership had been discussing proposals to avoid liberty problems before this summer.
In June, three Naples sailors were killed and two seriously burned when their car flipped on their way back to base from a club at 5 a.m. on a Saturday. Later that month, a Rota sailor died and another was hurt in a car crash around midnight on a Friday. At 5:15 a.m. Sunday, two Italians died in a car accident involving a Naples sailor.
“The common denominator in most of these accidents is: young sailors, after midnight, impaired driving,” whether it be by alcohol or fatigue, Smith said.
Because of fights and other problems this year, commanders in Rota, Naples and Sigonella, Sicily, have declared some off-base clubs off-limits.
The new measures vary by base depending on local circumstances. For example, in Naples, sailors must drive or take taxis to get to clubs, while in Souda Bay, Crete, sailors are within walking distance of bars.
“We’re not looking for one panacea to solve the problem,” Smith said.
Souda Bay is changing its liberty bus program hours.
On Friday, the Naples base starts free weekend bus runs from two bases to downtown Naples and the suburb of Pozzuoli. An early bus schedule that targets the restaurant crowd leaves base at 7 p.m. and returns at 1 a.m. A bus run aimed at club-goers leaves at 11 p.m. and returns at 4:30 a.m.
“We feel, particularly after the deaths … this summer … that a fairly robust attempt needs to be made” to get sailors off the roads in the early-morning hours, said Capt. Dave Frederick, base commanding officer.
“We’ve been talking about the idea” of a curfew, said Lt. Steve Curry, Sigonella base spokesman. The base commander was meeting with junior enlisted sailors Thursday to discuss possible changes.
Naval Station Rota spokesman Chief Petty Officer Dan Smithyman said the commands are constantly reviewing procedures to cut down on alcohol and drunken-driving incidents.
For the last two years, some command chief petty officers have offered taxi coupons to sailors, who can use them to get a ride home from town. Sailors give the coupon to a cab driver and the money is taken out of a special fund set aside for the program, Smithyman said.
While some new initiatives won’t cost anything, others will be funded depending on the manner of change. The extended hours and new bus routes in Naples are funded by Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Frederick said the extra bus runs cost about $500 a night. He said all the changes will be in effect through Labor Day, at which point the base will assess whether they are effective enough to continue.
Seaman Michael Linden, 19, said he probably won’t use the buses because, “We’re always pretty good about finding a designated driver and making them stick to it.”
But he said late-night movies might entice him to stay on base rather than go downtown.
Seaman Timothy Quigley, 22, plans to take advantage of the new bus run.
“It’s an excellent idea instead of punishing everybody [for the car accidents],” he said.
“We could turn this into a good thing,” said Seaman Ryan Catlett, 21. “We’ll make it the party bus.”
— Scott Schonauer in Rota contributed to this report.