Mixed reactions greet eased restrictions
Stars and Stripes March 6, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Reaction to the lifting of the “period of reflection” restrictions on Defense Department personnel on the island and Marine bases in Japan was mixed Tuesday.
While most DOD civilians hailed their renewed freedom to enjoy themselves off base, the few servicemembers who would comment bridled at being restricted to bases or their off-base homes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and being barred from consuming alcohol out in town.
On Monday, Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the senior U.S. general on Okinawa, lifted the order for a reflection period that began Feb. 20. Under that order, all persons on Okinawa under the status of forces agreement were restricted to the bases or their off-base homes. His action came in response to several highly publicized allegations of crimes committed by servicemembers on Okinawa, including two alleged rapes.
“Freedom!” said Kathryn Perez, wife of a Marine who lives in Chatan. “That’s the first thing I thought when I heard the news.”
She said rules for the reflection period were unclear and that mothers who lived off base, for example, were prevented from taking their children to neighborhood parks.
“The spouses I talked to feel relief that we can now continue with the lives we’ve known for the past five years,” said Perez, who does most of her shopping in the community. “I think it was the right move to keep some restrictions on active-duty personnel.”
One former Marine now living on Okinawa disagreed with Zilmer’s actions.
“I think it’s stupid,” said Larry Henry, a retired sergeant major. “These were actions by just a couple of people. Don’t hold it against everybody. Make the people who do these things suffer — punish them to the max.”
He said crimes by Americans on Okinawa, no matter how minor, are “going to be blown all out of proportion by the local media.”
Another former Marine had mixed thoughts.
“Actually, it’s not a bad idea — it’ll get the message across,” said Norman Garrett, a retired master gunnery sergeant. “What’s really unfair is they’re imposing these new restrictions just on the active-duty personnel. They should be placed on everyone [on SOFA status].”
He was afraid, however, that “punishing the masses” for the actions of the few won’t solve anything and will create a lot more animosity.
Monday’s action also affects personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Camp Fuji.
“I’m glad I’m free now,” said a civilian contractor at MCAS Iwakuni who asked to be identified only as “Rosco.”
“But you know what’s going to happen,” said the former Marine. “The young guys will now just get drunk on base first and then go off base to raise hell. Just watch.”
By 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Starbucks across from Camp Lester was crowded with Americans, and servicemembers could be seen getting lunch in nearby American Village restaurants.
Servicemembers, however, were reluctant to talk to a reporter.
One sailor who did not want to be identified said the new 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew is “better than nothing.”
Another sailor agreed.
“It’s better to be able to go out than be locked down,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelly Talavera.
More than a dozen other servicemembers were stopped and asked for their reactions, but most simply walked away. A civilian employed by Marine Corps Community Services said he was told by his boss not to speak to the press.
One person who was eager to comment was Hugo Landecker, a former sailor and shipyard worker who arrived on Okinawa last week to visit his daughter.
Landecker said he was considering writing a letter to his senator about the period of reflection, questioning the legality of restricting civilians. He also wondered what effect the new curfew and alcohol ban would have on servicemembers.
“We have a whole volunteer fighting force and when it comes time to re-enlist, this could be the stumbling block,” he said, calling the imposition of the curfew “rash.”
Army spouse Tanya Hall said she thought the curfew was a good idea — something she would have imposed immediately following the first incident, the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by a Marine staff sergeant.
Hall said the curfew for active-duty personnel was fair because “they’re the ones getting into trouble.”
But Holly McDaniel, a Marine Corps spouse, said it wasn’t fair at all, especially for married Marines who “tend to be more responsible.”
Another spouse said she was just happy to get off base and plans to take her kids to the park this weekend.
“They’ve been dying to go,” said Ibellise Datiz. She said she missed being able to eat at Japanese restaurants and her “kids were missing McDonald’s so bad.”
Restaurants that cater to Americans were eager to greet their old customers.
“Obviously we are happy,” said Mark Esparza, owner of Obbligato, a Mexican restaurant chain on the island.
“It hurt Okinawa’s economy more than it worked as a moment of reflection for military people,” he said. “While military people could eat and shop on base, the off-base businesses that cater to Americans suffered.”
Takashi Gushiken, owner of a family restaurant in Chatan, said the restrictions “showed the Okinawan people how much the military contributes to Okinawa’s economy.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.