CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Starting Monday, the drinking age for Marines in Japan will be lowered to 20 years of age.

The policy memorandum signed Wednesday by Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Weber, commander of Marine Corps Bases Japan, aligns the drinking age of Marines with Japanese law, which sets the legal age for buying and consuming alcohol at 20 — the age a person is officially recognized as an adult.

“Marines will now be afforded the same privileges already afforded to members of the other U.S. military services on Okinawa, and the Japanese public,” Marine spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Chuck Albrecht said Thursday.

A group of junior enlisted Marines gathered for a late lunch Thursday at the Camp Foster Taco Bell erupted into whoops when told of the news. Exclamations of “alright,” “sweet,” and “right on” were sounded all around by the Marines — except for one who shrugged his shoulders and said rather nonchalantly that he was 21.

Other Marines interviewed Thursday expressed the timeworn sentiment that those old enough for war are old enough to drink.

“If you can die for your country, you should be able to have a beer,” said Staff Sgt. Maxwell Askins of Camp Courtney, who added that he thinks the new policy shows faith and confidence that Marines will “do the right thing.”

Staff Sgt. Edwin Serenaduque, 28, a nondrinker, said it was a good move.

“It’s good to see, because the other services can drink at 20 and it should be the same for us,” he said.

The new policy reverses a change in the drinking age put into effect in January 1999 in the wake of a series of alcohol-related incidents, including the death of a 19-year-old Marine who was beaten by another Marine with a lead pipe during a fight outside a bar near Camp Foster.

The age was changed from 20 to 21 and other liberty restrictions, such as a ban on “typhoon parties” and a limit on how much alcohol a Marine could possess in the barracks or buy at base shopettes, were put into effect.

In 1995, following the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two Marines and a sailor who had been drinking heavily, the drinking age in base clubs was raised from 18 to 20, mirroring Japanese law.

The new policy affects the drinking age only, Albrecht said. All other liberty policies remain in effect.

Albrecht said a decrease in alcohol-related incidents over the past couple of years has shown the liberty policies have been effective. He said he didn’t expect an increase in such incidents with the lowering of the drinking age.

“Marines are taught from their very first moments of indoctrination into our ranks to be responsible and to exhibit our core values of ‘Honor, Courage and Commitment,’” he said.

“Those who don’t are by far the rare exception, and they are held accountable in an appropriate manner by local unit commanders in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and provision under the Status of Forces Agreement.”

Megan McCloskey contributed to this report.

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