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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Within weeks, Kadena airmen will receive a liberty-card system similar to the one Marines on Okinawa use, Air Force officials said Friday after announcing a broadly based curfew.

Under the curfew, which began at 1 a.m. Saturday, all airmen, civilians and status-of-forces-agreement personnel are confined to base or their off-base homes from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. daily.

First sergeants were scheduled to stand at base gates and write down the names of anyone leaving Kadena between curfew hours this weekend, an Air Force spokesman said. Those names later will be checked against a database of Kadena residents and workers.

Most of the details for the liberty-card system still are being worked out, but the 18th Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, has ordered that the program be designed within the next two weeks, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Mike Paoli.

“The intent is to allow supervisors to have the authority to impose liberty restrictions,” Paoli said. “It will likely involve a commander’s involvement to waive liberty restrictions. But at what level is still being determined.”

Numerous DUIs and alcohol-related crimes spurred the curfew and the proposed restrictions, Paoli said. However, last week’s arrest of Kadena Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez, accused of molesting a 10-year-old girl, was the final catalyst for the new policies, he acknowledged.

Airmen generally agreed Friday that something needed to be done to curtail alcohol-related incidents and crimes, but many said they were hopeful the current one-size-fits-all curfew would end soon.

“Obviously the tactics we’ve been using so far haven’t been working,” said Staff Sgt. William McLaughlin. “But to punish people as a whole, personally I don’t agree with it.”

Limiting liberty indiscriminately for a long time ultimately would hurt servicemember retention, McLaughlin said. He agreed that a liberty-card system could be a better solution if tailored individually or, at the very least, enforced at the squadron level.

The long-term program will apply to all wing airmen, Paoli said.

Whether civilians and members of other branches attached to the base will be included in the program has not been determined, he said. However, the current curfew applies to everyone working or living on the base.

Nothing productive goes on between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Gate Two Street, said 2nd Lt. Aaron Thomas, who has worked on courtesy patrols that help airmen late at night but have little enforcement authority.

“To jeopardize Okinawan safety just because we want to drink to oblivion is just not fair,” Thomas said. “We’re not working for Wal-Mart here or some company where we can do as we please after work.”

The curfew would hurt the servicemembers who have been deployed to Iraq or other difficult duty and need to blow off some steam, said Erica George, a former servicemember now working as a civilian in the 18th Wing Contracting Office. George said she felt conflicted about the curfew because she has enjoyed going out to bars late at night in the past. “At the same time, you still want to feel you can walk around and be safe,” she said.

Safety is the paramount issue for Airman 1st Class Dan Huston, who said he thought about his 5-year-old daughter when he heard about the molestation charges aimed at Valdez. Safety “definitely crosses my wife’s mind,” said Huston. “She’s paranoid now about children walking around on base.”

The Marine Method

Marines living on Okinawa are issued gold-colored liberty cards if they can leave base at any hour and red cards if they are restricted to base after hours.

Nearly all servicemembers in ranks E-3 and below receive red cards, while servicemembers in ranks E-4 and E-5 can earn gold cards for good behavior.

When the Marine liberty program went into effect last year, incidents in nondeployable battalions dropped significantly. In the Headquarters and Service Battalion, cases resulting in nonjudicial punishment dropped from 63 in the first six months of 2004 to 29 for the second half of the year, when the program was in place.

Kadena Air Base has not determined if it will single out junior ranks. It is looking at the best ways it can enforce its program, said Air Force spokesman Mike Paoli. “Patrols that do more than our current courtesy patrols may be part of the more structured liberty program,” he said.

Whether these patrols will be uniformed and how far they will go in enforcing the new program has not been determined, Paoli said.

Those patrols could be out in force on Gate Two Street after hours. But base officials say it’s unlikely that patrols will rove the entire island looking for curfew breakers.

— Erik Slavin

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