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In any U.S. town outside a military base, a brawl or a low-level crime is much more likely to be handled within the military justice system, servicemembers say.

However, when U.S. servicemembers get into a fracas with a local national in South Korea or Japan, it can escalate into an international incident and be fuel for anti-American protests.

At Camp Casey in South Korea, Army Staff Sgt. Marcus Jones and others said many supervisors teach soldiers to defend their buddies no matter the consequences. They say they’ve also seen hypocrisy when a soldier takes those “leave no one behind” lessons to heart.

The message many soldiers get, Jones said, is that “if you’re downrange and [your friend] gets into a fight, you better not bring yourself back to the company without him.”

But when a soldier gets arrested by local police for backing up his buddy in a fight, he said, “no one wants to take responsibility for it because no one wants to be held accountable to the next rank.”

The “leave no one behind” message isn’t being explained correctly to many soldiers, he said.

“Nobody’s taking the time to break it down for these guys,” Jones said. “They leave it up to their own imaginations.”

U.S. Forces Korea officials did not respond to queries regarding the buddy system or how “no one left behind” should be interpreted by servicemembers in South Korea.

In a command policy letter last year, however, USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell stated having a battle buddy while off base is “highly” encouraged but not mandatory.

In the Air Force, which uses a similar “wingman” program, a key focus is on staying out of trouble in the first place.

Said Brig. Gen. Joe Reheiser, the 5th Air Force vice commander at Yokota Air Base in Japan: “If there is a fight, you try to prevent it from getting out of hand and stop it. ‘Leave no one behind’ doesn’t mean you go up and try to help your buddy take everybody out. And if he’s going to jail, stay with him and do the best you can to notify the authorities back on base to get help for the individual who is incarcerated.”

Airmen learn about being a good “wingman” at basic training and there is no room for misinterpretation, wrote 18th Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant. Clinton Camac in an e-mail response to a Stars and Stripes query.

“The Wingman program does not teach and/or encourage airmen to physically ‘defend’ their fellow airmen and/or engage in illegal activity just because their fellow airmen may have,” Camac wrote.

It does, however, mean airmen will not leave an airman alone if an incident occurs, Camac said. But prevention is key, he added. because part of being a good wingman involves planning ahead to avoid dangerous incidents.

Avoidance and direct action to prevent a violent or illegal incident also are part of the Navy’s “liberty buddy” program, said 7th Fleet Command Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Howard.

Of the leave-no-one-behind ethos, he said, “I believe its intention is truly in a combat situation and there it should remain.

“… If your (libery buddy) suddenly picks up a brick and throws it through a window, you may not have had any chance to intervene, but now your responsibility lies with doing the right thing and that is reporting the incident,” Howard said.

Marine Corps public affairs officials in Okinawa said “leave no one behind” means looking out for your fellow Marines and their welfare at all times,gt. Clinton Camac in an e-mail response to a Stars and Stripes query.

“The Wingman program does not teach and/or encourage airmen to physically ‘defend’ their fellow airmen and/or engage in illegal activity just because their fellow airmen may have,” Camac wrote.

It does, however, mean airmen will not leave an airman alone if an incident occurs, Camac said. But prevention is key, he added, because part of being a good wingman involves planning ahead to avoid dangerous incidents.

Avoidance and direct action to prevent a violent or illegal incident also are part of the Navy’s “liberty buddy” program, said 7th Fleet Command Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Howard.

Of the leave-no-one-behind ethos, he said, “I believe its intention is truly in a combat situation and there it should remain.

“… If your [liberty buddy] suddenly picks up a brick and throws it through a window, you may not have had any chance to intervene, but now your responsibility lies with doing the right thing and that is reporting the incident,” Howard said.

Marine Corps public affairs officials on Okinawa said “leave no one behind” means looking out for your fellow Marines and their welfare at all times,” according to an e-mail. “This may include intervening if your liberty buddy is in harm’s way. It also means intervening to correct your liberty buddy’s behavior if he or she acts in such a way that brings discredit to the Marine Corps or breaks host-nation laws.”

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