A general order signed last Thursday by Commander, Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. James Kelly places restrictions on when military and status of forces civilians — and their dependents — can drink on and outside Yokosuka Naval Base.

The order was signed in the wake of recent incidents, including a USS Kitty Hawk crewmember being accused in the Jan. 3 killing of a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman.

For servicemembers, an order’s an order. But what about civilians? How can military commanders place restrictions on nonmilitary personnel?

Overseas commanders have greater discretion over the personnel in their command than in the States, said U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force Staff Judge Advocate Col. Edmund S. Bloom.

Bloom would not speak about the CNFJ order specifically, but he described in general terms on Friday how and why commanders can assert authority over civilians, including contractors, dependents and government employees.

The authority is based on the commanders’ responsibilities to maintain readiness, ensure force protection and protect often-delicate bilateral relations, Bloom said.

Bloom said there isn’t necessarily a specific Department of Defense directive that outlines how and when commanders can restrict civilians.

Instead, the authority is based on court cases relating to previous commanders’ restrictions.

The result, he said, is simple: to protect forces, maintain readiness and preserve bilateral relationships, commanders can create reasonable rules that apply to everyone assigned to their command.

“It has to be a narrowly drawn set of prohibitions,” he said. “If there is specific conduct that is aggravating the relationships between the two countries” then a commander can restrict that conduct.

The same applies to restrictions designed to protect forces and maintain readiness.

In 2004, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Leon LaPorte extended a curfew in South Korea to civilians, based on threats received by the State Department. The curfew, he said at the time, ensured readiness and helped protect USFK personnel.

It was later repealed. Nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees sued USFK for back pay to cover the times they were restricted under the curfew and therefore in a “state of readiness” — a condition under which they are due payment, according to their contract.

The lawsuit didn’t contest LaPorte’s mandate specifically.

A commander’s authority over dependents and civilians is not as great as the “virtually absolute” authority over military members, Bloom said. But commanders have a variety of tools to ensure compliance by civilians, from restricting access to base services to sending a dependent home or revoking command sponsorship. Each command has its own ways of dealing with any infraction, he said.

“It goes through whatever review that the base has,” he said.

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