YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — In his first interview with Stars and Stripes since taking command of U.S. Forces Japan on Feb. 25, Air Force Lt. Gen. Edward Rice Jr. on Monday discussed recent events on Okinawa, this summer’s arrival of the USS George Washington and other expected plans for the military this year.

A “period of reflection” began Feb. 20 for all military units on Okinawa and some on mainland Japan following criminal investigations involving servicemembers, including two alleged rapes and two separate alcohol-related incidents. Okinawa police over the weekend dropped their investigation in one rape case, but the Marine Corps is continuing its investigation.

Rice said a special task force appointed to study current sexual-assault prevention policies and training at bases throughout Japan will continue during the next 30 days.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

¶ On the “period of reflection,” which limited servicemembers, DOD civilians and their families on Okinawa, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Camp Fuji to off-base travel only for official business, schooling, worship and medical needs:

“The focus is on the future, and I hope that people understand that the actions we’ve taken to date have not been about trying to punish people for what has happened in the past but has been to think about how we can prevent any of these instances from occurring in the future. …

“I know that this is a difficult period for our members and their families, just as it is for our hosts in Japan. None of us like to see this type of a situation happening.

So I would hope that as many of our folks as possible will help us look to the future … to help us think about innovative ways that we can help ourselves as we try to make sure that our relationship with the Japanese, who are our hosts here, remains strong. …

¶ On consideration of a uniform curfew or liberty policy for all commands in Japan and Okinawa:

“I’m certainly not ready to say that at this point. I don’t know enough yet about the individual policies to make a considered judgment on that. It’s something that I will certainly look at, and I think it will be something I will look at as a part of this task force as we visit the many installations. But at this point, I’m not ready to make a judgment on that.”

¶ On the arrival this summer of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, to replace the USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka Naval Base:

“I think the arrival of the USS George Washington will be one of the highlights of the year as we look back on it. It will bring an additional level of capability to our ability to defend Japan, to our ability to defend and secure the sea lines of communications that are so vital to all of the nations in the regions. … Even though it will be the first nuclear-powered ship stationed here in Japan, it is by no means the first one that we have had here … We’ve made a continual commitment to the government of Japan to operate these safely and securely.”

¶ On plans to move Marine Corps operations at Futenma, Okinawa, part of a realignment plan that would ultimately move 8,000 Marines permanently to Guam:

“I think that we are going to work very hard to keep it on track. It’s my expectation that we, on both sides of alliance, understand the critical importance of this to the security of both our nations. So it’s my expectations that we will push through this, notwithstanding the events on Okinawa.”

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