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Pacific edition, Saturday, August 25, 2007

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Marine military policeman was reprimanded, restricted to his home, work and church for 30 days and sentenced to 14 days of hard labor here Thursday for possessing an Airsoft rifle.

Cpl. William C. Schuh, 23, pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating a Marine Corps Base Japan order making possession of the realistic-looking sport air guns illegal for all personnel in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement.

He requested a special court-martial panel of officers and senior enlisted members for the sentencing portion of his trial Thursday.

The seven-member panel took an hour and 15 minutes to come back with their sentence.

Schuh, assigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion on Camp Foster, was charged with violating the order after he was apprehended by Okinawa police the night of March 16 at a park in Ginowan, where he had gathered with other Americans for a combat game involving the replicas, which are made of molded plastic and painted to look like real firearms.

The weapons fire hard plastic pellets using springs, carbon dioxide charges or electricity, depending on the model. They are popular in Japan, where possession of real firearms is severely restricted.

Airsoft games are common, especially on Okinawa, where local officials have long protested weekend “war games” involving Americans and Japanese players late at night in city parks.

People may apply for an exemption to possess the Airsoft guns on military bases, but they are still prohibited from being carried or displayed in public. According to evidence at Schuh’s trial, he did not apply for an exemption.

He was apprehended by Okinawa police after they received a report of suspicious weapons found in a park restroom. It later turned out the Airsofts had been stored there while game participants had explored the area to make sure there was no one else in the park.

According to evidence, when the police arrived the other gamers ran away and only Schuh remained. He walked up to the officers, who had their guns drawn on him, and identified himself as a military policeman. About 20 Airsoft weapons were seized, police said.

Capt. Andrew Beckwith, the prosecutor in the case, emphasized that the Airsoft looked all too real.

“You can imagine the impact this had on local nationals who saw Marines playing at night with that,” he said. He asked the jury to sentence Schuh to 45 days in the brig and bust him to lance corporal.

“The accused is a police officer,” Beckwith said. “He is expected to uphold the law, not violate it.”

Capt. Jennifer Herrmann, Schuh’s defense lawyer, said a federal conviction was punishment enough.

“He’s accepted full responsibility,” she said. “This was not violating a Japanese law. He violated a general order. He had the integrity to approach (the police) when they came. He would not be here today if he had run.”

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