Communities react to restrictions that followed taxi driver's death
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Military spouse Tara Baker didn’t know she was under a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.
She hadn’t seen the empty shelves in the Yokosuka Navy Exchange’s liquor section. And she didn’t know about the ban on drinking alcoholic beverages in public.
But when she found out Thursday about Yokosuka’s period of “heightened sensitivity,” she said she felt sorriest for the sailors.
“I live off base, so it doesn’t really affect me,” Baker said. “But I know the sailors are going to be really put out.”
Servicemembers and civilians at the base and at Ikego and Negishi housing areas are currently observing a mourning period mandated jointly by Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan and 7th Fleet.
Navy officials said the restrictions were put into place to “show respect” for Masaaki Takahashi, a 61-year-old driver who was stabbed to death in Yokosuka’s Shioiri neighborhood March 19.
USS Cowpens Seaman Olatunbosun Ogbogu was arrested by Japanese police Thursday as a suspect in the killing. The 22-year-old sailor had been missing from his command since March 1 and turned himself in to Naval Criminal Investigate Service agents March 22.
Restrictions — including the off-base curfew, a halt to alcohol sales on base and the ban on all public alcohol consumption — took effect Wednesday night and will last until at least Monday, when they will undergo review, according to Navy officials.
Around Yokosuka on Thursday, people talked about the mourning period.
A USS George Washington sailor said he was stopped by security as he was trying to go to work Thursday morning.
“Yesterday, when I asked if the fact that some of us have to actually be at work at 6 a.m. was going to be a problem … I was told that ‘common sense would prevail,’” Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Demay said. “Then, at 5:45 this morning, I had some MA2 drilling me as to why I was coming on the base so early while he took down my name and command. So much for common sense.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Donovan Edwards said he doubted the restrictions would curb the drinking, because people would find their way around them.
“I think they need to take a different approach to this problem,” Edwards said. “People will still drink. Now they will just go to different areas.”
A more rigorous overseas screening process could help cut liberty incidents, Edwards said, adding that programs like Homeport Ashore go a long way in deterring bad behavior.
“It all comes down to boosting people’s morale,” Edwards said.
Morale is an issue, said a USS Kitty Hawk sailor who asked not to be named. Curfews and other measures only exacerbate existing problems, he said.
“Everyone has been expecting this,” the sailor said. “Things like this are why everyone hates the Navy. Maybe that’s why we drink.”
Seaman Trevor Hutchison of the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem said the restrictions wouldn’t affect him much.
“I’m a white-card holder, so I’m not allowed out late anyways,” Hutchison said. “I didn’t even find out about the curfew until yesterday, when I was filling out my liberty plan.”
The whole incident is very sad, said Japanese base worker Romi Sano.
“The actions of one person affect everybody,” Sano said, adding that Japan is becoming more dangerous, not just due to crimes committed by foreigners, but because of a shift in culture.
“Things are changing a lot. Before, a murder in Japan was very rare. Now it seems like it happens often. I guess we all have to be careful.”
Although similar restrictions that were placed on U.S. Marine Corps bases in light of recent high-profile crimes where servicemembers were accused have gradually eased, people at other military bases in Japan wondered if they would be next.
As of Thursday, Sasebo Naval Base had neither liberty nor alcohol restrictions, but base commanding officer Capt. Tilghman Payne planned to make an all-hands call Friday to discuss the events in Yokosuka, according to Sasebo base spokesman Charles Howard.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Keith Salyer said restrictions would be “understandable” given the gravity of the crime.
While Sasebo Petty Officer 3rd Class Chelsea Froidcoeur said she, too, understood the restrictions at Yokosuka, they weren’t needed in Sasebo.
“There are not many incidents that happen with any of the ships out here,” Froidcoeur said. “We’re actually pretty good out here.”
At Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Air Force Capt. Greg Judd of the 36th Airlift Squadron said the Navy’s restrictions are a good and timely way to show the Japanese people that the military is taking action.
“Right now, I think it’s probably a good thing to clamp down with some restrictions,” Judd said.
But while Senior Airman Miguel Abudo of the base’s 374th Communications Squadron agreed with Yokosuka’s alcohol ban, he said a curfew might do more harm than good — especially once it ends.
“Keeping people on base makes them restless,” he said. “So when they later go off base, they are more pent up and belligerent.”
Stripes reporters Bryce Dubee and Travis Tritten contributed to this report.