'I'd set up a curfew'
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Shock and revulsion spread across Kadena Air Base on Tuesday as airmen discussed both the idea of liberty restrictions and the international implications of reports that a Kadena staff sergeant is accused of molesting an Okinawan child.
No liberty restrictions on enlisted airmen are planned now although that always is an option, an Air Force spokesman said Tuesday.
Restrictions like those placed on Okinawa Marines, which prevent junior enlisted servicemembers from owning a car and staying out past midnight, may be unpopular but some airmen said they should be considered.
"Eventually, something has to deter the behavior," said Master Sgt. Kenny Orange. "I think something drastic may happen at some point."
While almost all airmen act responsibly, he said, something must done about the few who drink too much and commit criminal acts.
The latest incident, in which Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez is accused of touching a 10-year-old girl’s breast and photographing her with his cell phone camera, is especially angering, the master sergeant said.
"I can’t imagine anyone doing that to my daughter," said Orange, who is married to a Japanese.
Every airman at Kadena had a chance to hear what happened at "commander’s calls" on Tuesday, where squadron and group commanders discussed the crime’s implications.
Several airmen said they could not understand how a person could do what Japanese police say Valdez did to the girl.
"I’m pretty shocked," said Sr. Airman Cara Hall. "Being drunk is no excuse to do something like that. You don’t expect that from anyone."
Hall, who says she doesn’t go out drinking on Gate 2 Street, said she wouldn’t be surprised if restrictions were imposed.
Some junior servicemembers argued that restricting alcohol would only drive the problem underground. "Drying out" the barracks would only move the problem to another location, they contended.
But even some who oppose restrictions said they could understand the rationale behind them.
"People don’t want to feel like little kids and they should be able to have a little fun," said one airman 1st class who attended a commander’s call. "But If I were the base commander and I had this many alcohol-related problems on my base, I’d set up a curfew."
Most airmen know that they essentially are ambassadors to Japan and act accordingly, said 18th Wing Medical Group Col. Kelley Kash, one of the commanders who discussed the incident with airmen Tuesday.
But the political impact of this incident, and the regret that base officials must demonstrate that they feel, mean the idea of restrictions will remain on the table.
"When it comes to national defense (versus) liberty restrictions, it’s not even close," Kash said. "… As Americans, we don’t like the thought of restricting our freedoms. But this is serious enough so that it warrants serious consideration."