Sasebo commander lays down the law
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sasebo’s commander gathered about 350 sailors Friday to tell them he wants off-base crime to stop immediately.
Capt. Michael James told the sailors that unacceptable and illegal behavior strains months — even years — of conscious effort to establish a good relationship with Sasebo’s people and government.
James, and several other base leaders, spoke to the sailors at the Community and Education Center’s auditorium during the “Personal Behavior and Responsibility Program” — a general military training event.
The training follows two recent cases in which Sasebo sailors were charged with attacks on Japanese women in Sasebo city.
It’s crucial for sailors to “act in a professional manner” and “hold behavior to the highest standard,” said Master Chief Petty Officer William Lowman, Sasebo’s command master chief.
“When we don’t do those things, it overshadows the 99.9 percent of really good things we do to build positive relationships,” Lowman said. “The purpose today is to reinforce that.”
Lowman said the command discussed, but dismissed, the idea of instituting a curfew that would restrict sailors to the installation or their off-base quarters at night. The Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station commander put his base on a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew from Jan. 13 until he lifted it Wednesday, after several of his Marines were either arrested or indicted for alleged off-base crimes.
Lowman stressed that sailors need to look out for each other.
“Personnel must be careful and responsible, and watch out vigilantly for their shipmates,” Lowman said.
He also emphasized the Navy’s core values of “honor, courage and commitment” and said senior sailors must take charge of situations, such as when a junior sailor is out in town and shows signs of heading toward trouble.
Lt. Maribel Mercado, the staff judge advocate, spoke about the rights of accused Americans under the Status of Forces Agreement, but said she can’t be much help once a sailor is in the Japanese legal system.
“The SOFA means that you do have rights, but you also have responsibilities,” Mercado said. “When a matter goes to public trial, I am just there to observe … to make sure the Japanese side does things the correct way according to the agreement.”
Her advice was blunt.
“Don’t misbehave. Why do that and waste your life? Don’t commit crimes. We are not here to rob, steal, rape or whatever. Use common sense,” she said.
Cmdr. Harvey Ranard, Sasebo’s command chaplain, spoke of the moral responsibility to look out for fellow servicemembers. And Elaine Horrell, a Fleet and Family Support Center counselor, talked about options available to help sailors with problems ranging from uncontrolled anger and stress to alcohol and drug abuse.
“The information and everything they said was good, but there’ll still be the occasional one that gets in trouble,” Seaman Damian Robinson said of his fellow sailors.
“It is not fair to expect the entire population of a base this size to be perfect, never having a servicemember involved in an off-base incident,” said Robinson, a security officer. “There are people like me who don’t go to the bars and don’t go out drinking and stay out of trouble, but much of what happens out in town stems from the individuals involved, and is not representative of the way everybody else conducts themselves.”
The two Sasebo sailors in custody are:
• Petty Officer 3rd Class Markies Steven Bates, 24, a postal clerk. He is accused of forcing a 19-year-old woman into his car and raping her at about midnight Jan. 16. The Nagasaki Prefecture Prosecutors Office indicted him Friday on charges of rape resulting in bodily injury.
• Petty Officer 3rd Class Alfred Thomas O’Donnell, 21. He has been in local custody since his indictment Dec. 25 for allegedly punching a 23-year-old Japanese woman jogging just outside the base’s Nimitz Park on Oct. 5.