Restriction: Shape up or ship out
By KENDRA HELMER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 12, 2003
NAPLES, Italy — Staring at the walls in a bare barracks room. Endless hours to think about what you don’t have — no television, no computer, no phone, no music, no privacy.
Booze and Burger King? Fuhgetaboutit.
What you do have: a new uniform accessory, a bright orange vest that screams “RESTRICTEE,” so when you leave the barracks room everyone knows you’re being punished.
That’s life for sailors on restriction at the Navy’s Capodichino base in Naples.
“It’s embarrassing, and it’s boring. All your rights are pretty much gone away,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Rice, on restriction for drunken and disorderly conduct.
Restriction is a nonjudicial punishment for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The commanding officer spells out the specifics of restriction, which can last up to 60 days.
Restriction reinforces the notion of discipline for servicemembers who are running into trouble, military officials say.
“It provides COs with some teeth, but it’s not some final blow to a sailor,” said Lt. Michael Turner, Staff Judge Advocate for Naval Support Activity Naples.
He said that, as a nonjudicial punishment, it’s not meant to be a permanent mark on a servicemember’s record.
Rather, it’s an attempt to get them to shape up.
“When a case comes to me, it’s generally because the chain of command feels their efforts haven’t resulted in a change of an individual’s behavior,” said Capt. Dave Frederick, Naples commanding officer.
Restriction “provides the opportunity to increase the military bearing of an individual,” he said.
When deciding punishment, Frederick said, he considers the nature of the offense and what he learns about the sailor at the captain’s mast — or disciplinary hearing.
Offenses for which he might hand down restriction include public drunkenness or fighting — a visible punishment for a visible wrongdoing, he said.
Or it may be as a punishment for financial irresponsibility, where the sailor couldn’t afford a fine or a reduction in rank.
Restrictees in Naples carry a set of orders with them, a five-page explanation of the rules they must follow once their command has turned them over to the Chief Master-At-Arms Office.
“When not engaged in a work assignment, you will remain in your room at all times.”
Red “off limits to all personnel” signs adorn the doors of the two restricted barracks on Capodichino — the room for men is adjacent to one for women.
On a recent afternoon, three restricted sailors sat on their bunks (there are no chairs in the rooms) to talk about life as a restrictee.
“You gotta find something to do, like make paper airplanes,” Rice said.
The rock-paper-scissors game is another favorite.
Then there’s the popular game that involves sailors making a mad dash to tag the doorknob after someone passes gas.
Hey — whatever it takes to pass the time.
“You develop a bond with the other guys. If you don’t, you’ll go crazy,” said Rice, 21, who got 45 days’ restriction.
Seaman Dan Marsh, 27, said that as an easily bored person, the punishment is torturous. The cryptologic technician got 60 days’ restriction and had his top-secret clearance put on hold for reasons he didn’t want to discuss. It was his second time on restriction; the first was for not paying bills.
“After all this, I want to get out [of the Navy]. … There’s something wrong with this kind of restriction,” Marsh said, noting that restricted sailors on ships usually at least get to wander. “It’s too long to reflect on why you’re here; it just gets you more mad.
“I always think I need my books so I can be doing something.”
Restrictees can read only official Navy material or approved military-related books from the library.
Marsh said some of his human-nature books that initially were approved were taken away for two weeks. “They gave them back and said, ‘It’ll improve your intellect,’” he said.
Around Christmas, he said, the restrictees were promised a phone call and e-mail home, but that didn’t happen.
“You will NOT be late for muster.”
Restrictees start mustering at 6:30 a.m.; the last muster is 9:45 p.m. They march in step to the quarter-deck and stand at attention or parade rest eight times daily during the week, nine times a day on weekends and holidays.
After their first muster, they do odd jobs for various base departments until around 4 p.m.
“A lot of times they let us do their work so they can check e-mail and run to the store,” Marsh complained.
The master-at-arms office gets about 15 requests a day for the restrictees’ help, said Petty Officer 1st Class Roberto Maqueira, one of two master-at-arms in charge of the restrictees. He makes sure they obey orders and see counselors if necessary, and he inspects their rooms and uniforms.
Jobs include taking out the trash, cleaning offices and tossing mail.
The most repulsive? Cleaning out the dog kennels, the sailors said, wrinkling their noses and going into a bit too much detail.
“With the exception of physical fitness clothing while exercising, you may not wear civilian clothing.”
The rules say restrictees don’t have to wear vests in the dining hall, but for a short period that changed, they said.
Seaman Jaime Castano, 24, does like one of the changes: gym privileges. There were none the first time he was on restriction, for driving under the influence. But with the new commanding officer came a new rule: trips to the gym a few days a week — escorted, of course.
Castano recently finished his second restriction — 45 days for driving after he had lost his driving privileges.
“I think [the vest] is kind of ridiculous,” Rice said. “Everyone knows you’re on restriction anyway because you muster and sit at a separate table at the galley. [The vest] makes us stick out like a sore thumb.”
That’s the idea, Frederick says.
“It’s … a visible form of punishment; it’s uncomfortable enough for them that it’d have a deterrent effect,” he said.
The restrictees said that while some sailors avert their gaze when they see them, the vest invites remarks from higher-ranking sailors.
“Some people think you’re a bad person,” Rice said. “I was chewed out by the same person who was nice to me last week just because now he saw me on restriction.”
“During normal working hours, you ARE NOT ALLOWED the use of tobacco products.”
Ten-minute smoke breaks are permitted between 4 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., once an hour, on the hour.
No guests are allowed in the restriction rooms, though restrictees can meet visitors on Sundays and holidays from 1 to 3 p.m. in a lounge. Restrictees can make escorted trips to the ATM and shop for toiletries.
Weekends are particularly dull, they said. They do laundry and clean their room. Not that there’s much to clean — just bunk beds, a fridge and a bathroom. Then it’s just more staring at the walls, more inventing games.
“A room inspection will be conducted every morning.”
Restrictees can count on unannounced inspections and random late-night head counts.
Such inspections have turned up carry-out food, DVD players, pornographic magazines and male and female restrictees in each other’s rooms, said Seaman Nicholas Garrett, 22, who escorts the restrictees.
On one random Saturday check, three guys who had sneaked out of their room found their freedom short-lived.
Garrett found one sailor in his room on his computer. “Man, his face went white,” Garrett laughed. Another restrictee was found with his half-undressed girlfriend. The other missing restrictee heard they’d been discovered, so he high-tailed it back to the quarter-deck.
Garrett said some restrictees go to extremes to get attention, such as making themselves sick by drinking lots of mouthwash.
He has seen both sides of restriction — he got 15 days for misuse of government computers.
“I was ashamed,” he said. “I had a good reputation for being squared away, I guess, and people didn’t believe it when they saw me in the vest. When I got off restriction, everything went back to normal.”
“Your last day of restriction will be …”
Rice still has a few weeks of restriction. Castano and Marsh got off restriction just in time for New Year’s Eve.
But Marsh and Rice still see plenty of each other — Marsh is now working for the master-at-arm’s office, watching over the restrictees.
“Mister 60-days-restricted,” Rice ribbed Marsh while picking up trash in a conference room. “It’s kind of cool but weird now that he’s in charge of me.”
Policy for punishment differs among services
It’s usually pretty easy to spot a sailor who’s restricted to base. The bright orange vest is a dead giveaway.
But for airmen and soldiers, the punishment generally is less visible.
“In the Air Force, it’s done much more privately” than in the Navy, said Maj. John Madsen, chief of general law at U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters. He said he isn’t aware of any airmen forced to don something identifying them as a restrictee, as is the case on many ships and Navy bases.
While all services can order restriction as punishment in non-judicial Article 15 cases — called a “captain’s mast” in the Navy — the specifics can vary from service to service and base to base.
“A commanding officer has broad discretion to run their restricted program as they see fit,” said Lt. Michael Turner, Staff Judge Advocate for Naval Support Activity Naples in Italy. “It’s not unusual for [restrictees] to wear vests; it’s a well-accepted policy and practice.”
Madsen said, “There are a lot of things the Navy does differently. … There’s a different philosophy between the services,” making reference to the captain’s mast on a ship.
“You line up the whole organization, and the captain stands up in front so everybody gets to see what’s going on. Everybody gets to hear Johnny’s story and the skipper give the punishment,” he said.
In most Article 15s, the servicemember doesn’t have to face so many spectators.
But the restrictee may be the object of some stares after the punishment commences, as is the case at the Navy’s Capodichino base in Naples.
Restrictees wear orange vests, march in formation, muster regularly and stay in designated rooms that are sparsely furnished and devoid of personal effects.
Restricted airmen and soldiers usually don’t muster, but may have to report to a supervisor, said Madsen and U.S. Army Europe legal experts. A typical restriction for a soldier may limit him to the barracks, chapel and dining facility, said Bruce Anderson, USAREUR spokesman.
Airmen and soldiers also usually stay in their own barracks rooms. In the case of a restrictee living off base, the unit may provide a dorm room.
“This isn’t vacation time, getting a time-out and going to your room and watch movies,” Madsen said.
Airmen and soldiers normally perform their normal duties and may have extra duties after normal work hours.
USAFE officials said 123 airmen received some form of restriction as part of their punishment last year. USAREUR and U.S. Navy Europe officials said such specific statistics weren’t available service-wide.
Numbers were available for Sigonella, Sicily and Naples, Italy. In Sigonella, (including its tenant commands), 124 people were put on restriction in 2002. In Naples, 40 sailors were restricted last year. Some of those include repeat restrictees.
— Kendra Helmer
There are two barracks rooms designated for restrictees -- one for men, one for women -- at the Navy’s Capodichino base in Naples.
KENDRA HELMER / S&S