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A sign put up this year inside one of the gates at Misawa Air Base, Japan, reminds base residents to be good ambassadors as they leave the base.
A sign put up this year inside one of the gates at Misawa Air Base, Japan, reminds base residents to be good ambassadors as they leave the base. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — What happens when a sailor in your berthing compartment threatens you with bodily harm?

Do you report it? Do nothing and hope it blows over? Tell the sailor: “Go ahead, make my day”?

While people largely know violence is wrong, the recent fatal stabbing of a taxi driver by a sailor has made “getting to the gray areas” of violence a priority for Navy leaders in Japan looking to curb violence within their ranks.

Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. James D. Kelly and 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Doug Crowder are working together to make violence a “zero-tolerance” issue in Japan, Kelly said last week.

“When it comes to drugs or something like sexual assault, people know that’s there 100 percent no tolerance for it in the Navy,” Kelly said. “We want anti-violent resolutions to become part of mantra in Japan.”

In the days leading to and following the arrest of USS Cowpens Seaman Olatunbosun Ugbogu, who admitted to stabbing 61-year-old taxi driver Masaaki Takahashi, all Yokosuka personnel were restricted from public alcohol consumption and put under a curfew. Yokosuka sailors also underwent a training stand-down focused on preventing violence.

But while the restrictions have been lifted, Kelly said, the attention to anti-violence has not abated.

All CNFJ and 7th Fleet commands were asked to review their violence prevention programs, Kelly said.

The goal of this is to “review plans and policies on violence prevention and emphasize zero tolerance for violent behavior,” 7th Fleet spokesman Chief Petty Officer Robert Garnand said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“We must reinforce a culture of prevention, response and accountability to ensure the safety, dignity and well-being of all people,” Garnand said.

There are challenges, Kelly said, as sailors may come from violent places in the United States as well as from war-torn countries where “life is next to meaningless,” Kelly said.

“In many families, violence is a clearly accepted mind-set,” Kelly said. “But, as I tell people, ‘I don’t care where you’re from, where you live, what sex you are, we are not going to tolerate it.’”

There’s a difference between combat readiness and violence, Kelly said.

“Of course, we’re going to expect our SEALs to know how to do the nasty stuff. But we don’t want thugs in Japan, San Diego or anywhere else.”

Other bases taking notice of program

The “quick look” program at Misawa Air Base is getting noticed elsewhere in Japan.

At Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo, 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Jeff Newell has adopted a similar approach, according to wing spokesman Capt. Chris Watts.

Though it’s not necessarily known as “quick look,” “it is a quick look, modeled after Misawa’s program,” Watts said. “Col. Newell saw how Misawa was doing it and liked it.”

Commanders already knew to report certain incidents to the wing commander, he said. But now that information is presented in an actual briefing, rather than just a phone call, Watts said.

“Because there’s this goal of making this 24-hour window, all the information gets gathered maybe a little quicker,” he said. “It’s just another way to get informed about these incidents and help us learn how to prevent them.”

Every Air Force base has a similar reporting system, he added. The level of detail in the incident reports, however, usually depends on the base commander, Watts said.

- Jennifer H. Svan

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