Support our mission

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — It’s the same status-of-forces-agreement driver’s license, but what you have to do to get it hinges on each military installation.

U.S. Forces Japan lays out the bare bones each base must follow and leaves to individual commanders how those requirements are implemented. That means the requirements differ from base to base — from a full day in a local driving-conditions course and a road test to just a short video and a written exam.

Col. James Brophy, USFJ provost marshal, said USFJ doesn’t want to impede the separate instructions for driving that each branch of the military maintains. “We don’t like to … take authority away from them,” he said.

Instead, USFJ requires only the minimum instructions the SOFA requires, including that the applicant have a valid stateside or international driver’s license, take a local safety course and score at least 70 percent on a written exam.

The rest depends on the base.

The policies differ even when the bases are separated by mere miles and servicemembers drive on the same roads.

Take Okinawa, for example, where the Marine Corps system consists of a short video on local driving conditions shown after a two-part written exam. The entire process takes barely an hour at Camp Foster.

Down the road at Kadena Air Base, prospective drivers go through a 90-minute course about driving on the island, complete with PowerPoint presentations and cut-outs of international road signs used in Japan.

But some bases seem to be trending toward ratcheting up requirements for getting a license.

Yokosuka led the way about four years ago by lengthening the classroom portion to a full day, said Michael Kretschmer, Yokosuka traffic safety officer. Also required: a road test.

Surrounded by a dense population and highly trafficked roads, Yokosuka decided it needed more stringent driving instruction, he said. “We wanted to make sure we do everything we can possibly do prior to turning our folks loose on the road. We need to prepare them for what they’ll have to take on once they leave base.”

Kadena and Yokota Air Base followed suit over the past year.

After noticing a jump in accidents during 2005, the Kadena safety office decided in December to add more information to its local driving-conditions class, Lt. Col. Alan Barys said.

The first quarter of 2005 saw 191 accidents, he said; the second, 252; the third, 323. The driving class now is about a half-hour longer.

Master Sgt. Garius Neal, Yokota ground safety chief, said that after an informal survey of other installations Yokota also beefed up emphasis on driving off base.

Like at Kadena, Yokota’s decision was prompted by off-base accidents, he said.

Yokota doubled the length of its class, adding a section on international road signs and re-scripting the video from 18 to 30 minutes.

The base also changed its policy on the exam. Before this March, the teacher went over the questions of the exam with the class. Now, it’s closed-book.

“People are forced to take responsibility to study beforehand,” Neal said.

Some bases also put special requirements on younger drivers.

Marines require those younger than 26 to attend an AAA eight-hour driver’s improvement course. Marine officials on Okinawa, at Camp Fuji and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni set lengths of time those ranked E-5 and below must be on the base before getting a license.

Similarly, the Navy at Sasebo requires E-4-and-below ranks to have written approval from their commanding officers.

“That ensures there is a leadership assessment that the person is ready,” said Sasebo Naval Base spokesman Chuck Howard. “It says to the younger guys, ‘You have to take this more seriously.’”

Getting a SOFA license in JapanAll bases require a valid stateside or international driver’s license. Applicants must be at least 18 to drive off base, as that is the driving age in Japan.

Those without a valid license must have proof that they took a driving instruction course or must take one on the base to get a SOFA license. Not all bases offer the course.

Most bases require various forms, as well.

The following are individual base requirements:

NavyYokosuka Naval Base ¶ Eight-hour class, part of the weeklong area orientation briefing.¶ Written test.¶ Road test.Naval Air Facility Atsugi ¶ 1½-day class, part of the seven-day area orientation briefing.¶ Written test.Sasebo Naval Base ¶ Must be 19 years old.¶ E-4 and below need approval from commanding officer.¶ Written test.¶ Road test.¶ Safety office gives presentation on local driving conditions during orientation briefing.

Air ForceYokota Air Base ¶ 3½-hour class.¶ Written test.Kadena Air Base ¶ 1½ hour class.¶ Written test.Misawa Air Base ¶ Two-hour class.¶ Open-note, written test.

MarinesCamp Butler ¶ 20-minute video on cultural driving differences on Okinawa.¶ Written test.¶ Attendance at a nondriving-related, four-hour newcomer’s brief.¶ E-3 and below must wait a year; E-4s must wait 90 days; E-5s must wait 45 days.¶ E-5 and below must have command approval.Camp Fuji ¶ One-hour class.¶ Written test.¶ E-4 and below have to wait 90 days.¶ All ranks must have command approval.Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni ¶ 45-minute PowerPoint presentation done individually on a computer.¶ Written test.¶ Attendance at an orientation brief.¶ E-3 and below must wait a year; E-4s must wait 90 days; E-5s must wait 45 days.¶ E-5 and below must have command approval.

Army BasesCamp Zama ¶ Four-hour class.¶ Written test.Torii Station ¶ Falls under Camp Butler rules.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up