CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Reaction of troops throughout Japan was mixed regarding the Defense Department’s proposal to make it a court-martial offense to solicit or otherwise use the services of a prostitute, even in countries where the world’s oldest profession is either legal or largely winked at by the local authorities.

The maximum punishment being considered for conviction, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s Article 134, the General Article, would be one year in prison and dishonorable discharge.

“It’s a good thing,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Jamie Byrd, 31, of the 9th Engineer Support Battalion on Camp Hansen. “It will help prevent a lot of the younger Marines from going out and catching diseases and other stuff. Also, being with a prostitute in some countries could be a security issue.”

“A Marine missing duty because he’s been infected from contact with a prostitute affects combat readiness,” said Byrd’s friend, Staff Sgt. Michael Hutchinson, 29, of the same unit. “It takes away from being able to carry out our mission and puts stress on those of us who’ll have to pick up the slack.”

Some also wonder whether the passing of the law actually will be enough to alter the behavior of young servicemembers.

“I think you’re going to have a lot of young Marines getting into trouble,” said Sgt. Mike Bandy, 24, of H&S Battalion, Camp Foster. “Look, young guys aren’t going to change their behavior and prostitution is pretty open in places like Korea, Thailand, Australia. It’s even illegal in the States and it still happens.

“This is just going to be one more thing they can bring down on young Marines and get them into trouble. I’m pretty sure whoever is pressing for this has some good thoughts behind it,” he said. “But let’s face it, part of seeing the world is seeing the girls.”

A 44-year-old civilian contractor who spent 13 years in the Marines said, “It’s just crazy. It’s going to be damn hard to enforce.”

“I thought they already had a law on the books to cover that,” said Joseph Kozerski, 60, a 21-year Navy veteran who owns a movie rental shop near Camp Foster. “But if it keeps the kids from getting ripped off or drugged or a venereal disease, then it’s a good thing to make the rules stronger.

“I know that when young sailors and Marines get liberty somewhere like the Philippines or Thailand, they’d run amok like pirates and then come back to Okinawa still in that mode and wind up getting into serious trouble,” he said. “Maybe this will prevent some of that.

“Of course, if I was still young and dumb I’d be screaming about it,” he joked.

Sasebo sailors, at least those interviewed Thursday, weren’t happy with the proposed toughening of the law.

“I don’t think it should be a career-ending offense because I see a lot of people do things that jeopardize their life or others’,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Teia Genke, a master-at-arms at Sasebo Naval Base. “If someone is stupid enough to pay for prostitution then they’re taking on that responsibility to pay the consequences of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and whatever comes with that.

“I don’t think the military should totally kick them out because of that,” she said. “It happens a lot more often than people think, so there would be a lot of people getting kicked out.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Terrence Hampton, from Assault Craft Unit Five, also in Sasebo, agreed with Genke.

“It shouldn’t be such a serious offense. I don’t think it should be a career-ending thing,” he said. “I mean, someone could lose an entire Navy career over a single sexual act. Maybe they should go to mast, or be put on restriction, but losing your whole Navy career?

“Say you have 10 years in, maybe 20, and you get caught,” he added. “Then everything you’ve accomplished just goes down the drain. I don’t think that’s right, man.”

At Yokosuka Naval Base, sailors interviewed about the UCMJ change were wary about their full names being used concerning such a sensitive subject.

“What’s the Navy coming to?” said Seaman Wilson, who asked that his first name not be used so he could speak freely. He said making sex-for-hire a crime under the UCMJ was a bad idea, even with the best of intentions.

A Kitty Hawk sailor who also declined to be named said, “You go to sea three months, your wife is in the States or you don’t have a wife, or you go to war … most of the people, when they got back, they were drinking and hiring [prostitutes]. It’s just going to add to the overall stress in the military.”

Before he found a girlfriend and a meaningful relationship, he said, he also hired prostitutes. “I always regretted it. It was an empty act,” he said.

Seaman Veronica Dinse, however, said she agreed with the proposal. “I think it should be illegal,” she said, noting that in all U.S. states but Nevada, men who hire prostitutes are subject to arrest. She said she thought a ban on male sailors hiring prostitutes might increase the respect that female sailors are accorded.

“No, it wouldn’t,” countered seaman Alicia Sterling, “because [female sailors] are the only ones left to mess with.”

The sailors wondered how such a provision would be enforced; some said they didn’t think it would have a big effect.

“Something like this — who’s going to listen?” Wilson said. “A man has needs …”

—Greg Tyler and Nancy Montgomery contributed to this report.

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