CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — It’s going to be “Cinderella Liberty” for almost all Marines in ranks E-5 and below in Japan.

A new liberty card policy is being implemented for all Marines and sailors assigned to the Marine Corps Bases Japan and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, including all bases on Okinawa, and Camp Fuji and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on the mainland.

Marines and sailors E-5 and below will be issued red liberty cards that restrict them from being outside the bases from midnight to 5 a.m., unless they are driving to or from work from an off-base home, or they are on special orders or on leave.

All other servicemembers on those bases will be issued gold liberty cards that will allow them to be off-base after midnight. Under the plan, which goes into effect June 11, commanders may grant gold liberty cards to noncommissioned officers, ranks E-4 and E-5, who “demonstrated integrity, maturity, reliability ... exceptional performance” and adhere to sound values, said Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman, commander, Marine Corps Bases Japan.

Each service sets its own liberty policy in Japan — often command by command. While some Navy commands have used liberty cards, for instance, Air Force bases do not.

A frequent topic of conversation with other military commanders and local officials during his first 10 months on the island, Blackman said, has been the number of off-base crimes involving servicemembers.

He said he first reviewed the current liberty policies for Marines in Japan, which include requiring junior enlisted personnel to have “liberty buddies” whenever they go out in town.

“And then the first of the year rolled around and I was able to see the statistics for 2003,” he said. “Frankly, there has been a steady increase in incidents since 1998.”

He stressed that most of the crimes were nonviolent and low in number compared to military bases in the United States. The difference is that on Okinawa, the military is under a magnifying glass.

“We owe it to the Okinawa community,” the general said. “We very sincerely talk about being helpful and productive members of the community here and this is one way, in my mind, that we can go about doing … beyond all that we do with the beach cleanups and the English language programs and the sporting events.

“My focus was on the uniformed Marines because I felt I could make the biggest inroads there,” Blackman said. “So I met with the commanders in late winter and we talked about some thoughts and we talked about the idea of a liberty card. Those statistics that were made available to us around the first of the year, we dissected them in every possible way — time of the day, rank, location — we know more about those incidents than you can imagine.”

What they found was “no great revelation,” he said: It was mostly the younger Marines who were misbehaving after midnight.

“So we looked at how we could focus on that population during those hours,” he said. “We’re looking to regulate off-base liberty during the peak off-base incident periods. We owe it to the community to take some additional steps to reduce those incidents.”

He said the cards are just one tool.

“The bottom line is this is a complex problem and there are no simple solutions to complex problems,” Blackman said. “I don’t think that this is in and of itself the answer.”

He said the liberty card plan was intended to complement the liberty controls already in place. All Marines will be checked for their cards whenever leaving a base between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. The Marines also will continue their “courtesy patrols” of some of the more troublesome bar districts in Kin and Okinawa City.

“This is not a form of punishment,” Blackman said. “It’s a way of controlling where liberty is conducted during those peak times. These incidents have a negative effect on our relationship here and I want to turn it around; I want to push that curve in the other direction.”

The new policy takes effect June 11, a Friday that will begin a “liberty stand- down weekend” on all Marine bases, when the cards will be issued and the bases will offer special events to “reacquaint our folks with what’s available to them on the camps,” Blackman said.

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