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Stars and StripesPacific edition, Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Days after the ringing in of the new year, a tragedy struck that would resonate at Japan’s American military bases throughout 2006.

In the early hours of Jan. 3, U.S. sailor William Oliver Reese, a 21-year-old USS Kitty Hawk airman, robbed and beat to death Yoshie Sato, a 56-year-old Yokosuka city resident, near the Yokosuka Chuo train station.

Though apologies were made by high-ranking military officials and Reese promptly was handed over to local police, infuriated Japanese demanded more action to prevent such crimes by U.S. servicemembers. U.S. commands in Japan responded, making 2006 a year of curfews, anti-crime committees and a push for greater cultural awareness in Japan.

In June, Yokohama District Court sentenced Reese to life in prison.

Other 2006 headlines for the U.S. military in Japan:

Jan. 19

In the wake of the Sato murder, Rear Adm. James Kelly, Commander, Naval Forces Japan, signs a general order prohibiting Yokosuka Naval Base sailors, civilians and dependents from drinking alcohol off base after 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends and holidays.

In March, Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan commander, issues a policy letter re-emphasizing, “zero tolerance” for off-base misconduct by servicemembers or poor behavior by anyone else covered by the status of forces agreement in Japan. In September, Misawa Air Base institutes a liberty-card program to curb off-base problems.

Feb. 18

Sasebo Naval Base’s USS Essex and USS Harpers Ferry are sent to the Philippines to provide rescue efforts and humanitarian aid for the mountain farming village Barangay Guinsaugon after heavy rains and an earthquake cause a fatal mudslide Feb. 17. The ships carry about 4,000 servicemembers, 22 helicopters, water-purification supplies, blankets and body bags.

March 8

Misawa Air Base Tech. Sgt. Jerry Orona, 36, receives a two-year jail sentence and a dishonorable discharge after he is found guilty at a court-martial of possessing child pornography.

May 1

The State Department releases a statement detailing the long-awaited U.S.-Japan military realignment report. The document, signed by Japanese and U.S. officials, states that the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5 will transfer from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni by 2014. Also in the plans, according to the report, is a shift of the Japan Air Self-Defense Command to Yokota in 2010, an overhaul of the Army’s command structure at Camp Zama by 2008 and the moving of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force headquarters to Zama by 2012.

May 18

In Yokosuka, 240 sailors ranked E-4 and below from five Navy vessels become the first to move into off-ship housing at Yokosuka Naval Base. The Homeport Ashore program aims to provide each junior sailor with a room shared with one or two shipmates. Base officials said as many as 1,360 beds would be available to sailors by the end of the year, adding that eventually all 4,000 of Yokosuka’s shipboard junior sailors will have their own off-ship rooms. By June, Sasebo Naval Base has cleared two base buildings to create enough living spaces for 180 of its shipboard junior sailors.

CNFJ officials say they hope the Homeport Ashore initiative will improve sailor morale while decreasing off-base liberty incidents.

June 27

Protesters end a three-day sit-in against bringing the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington to Japan. The George Washington, slated to replace the USS Kitty Hawk sometime in 2008, would become the first nuclear-powered vessel permanently deployed to Japan. In August, Kanagawa prefecture’s Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa changes his stand and decides to accept the placement of the George Washington to Yokosuka. Yokosuka Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya has a similar change of heart in June.

July 12

The Navy calls off a four-day search for a 19-year-old sailor lost at sea. Airman Jason J. Doyle of Omaha, Neb., assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 136, was working on the USS Kitty Hawk flight deck when he fell off July 8.

Aug. 8

Misawa Staff Sgt. Aaron D. Schinbeckler, 26, is found guilty at a court-martial of downloading child porn onto his home computer, an offense that costs him 12 months in jail and a bad-conduct discharge.

Sept. 21

USFJ announces that Misawa Air Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni will lose Patriot Express service later in the month due to lack of use by servicemembers with permanent-change-of-station or temporary-duty orders. The service was popular for space-available travelers who could fly to the United States for $26.10. Aside from the lost benefit of space-A travel, arranged transportation for permanent-change-of-station airmen and Marines becomes more difficult, with many of them having to find ways to get to their new bases from distant commercial airports.

Oct. 25

Americable ends its cable TV and broadband Internet service at Yokota Air Base after the Army and Air Force Exchange Service decides not to renew Americable’s contract. Newly contracted Allied Telesis estimates broadband and integrated telephone services will be available in January 2007, with cable TV service returning in May. In the meantime, Yokota residents are left with nine AFN channels, eight local Japanese channels and the base Commander’s Channel.

Nov. 6

Katsumi Nakagawa, 70, dies from a brain contusion four days after being pushed outside a bar by U.S. Navy civilian Robert Burns Nolan, 54, a few blocks from Yokosuka Naval Base. Burns, a GS-14 personnel management officer for CNFJ, is put in Japanese custody Nov. 3 and will face trial on charges of bodily injury resulting in death.

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