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OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa — Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez’s suspended prison sentence after conviction on charges involving molesting a 10-year- old Japanese girl is surprisingly lenient, some airmen said Thursday.

As long as Valdez breaks no other Japanese law during the next four years, he’ll have to serve no time in prison.

“I’m shocked because the Japanese are so strict on everything else,” said Technical Sgt. Jason Golden. “I think it’s way too light of a sentence. The crime and punishment have to fit each other.”

Under “double jeopardy” rules, the Air Force cannot retry him in military court. Among possibilities are an administrative action that could subject him to a dishonorable discharge.

Some airmen said they wondered if the court gave a lenient sentence in a nod toward preserving U.S. military-Japanese relations.

However, past crimes of other servicemembers have carried far tougher sentences than expected.

For example, Marines Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Major and Cpl. Paul E. Mundell were sentenced on a prosecutor’s appeal earlier this year to 4½ years of hard labor in prison for assaulting a man outside a convenience store and taking his wallet.

People convicted of sex crimes in Japan routinely are given lighter sentences than are normal for such convictions in the United States, critics of the Japanese judicial system have said. Valdez’s sentence “is not out of line with precedent for these types of offenses” in Japanese courts, said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Paoli.

Airman 1st Class Joseph Weisshaar, 28, suggested the sentence was a slap on the wrist.

“If that’s the standard Japanese practice, then he got lucky,” he said. “The military should do whatever it can to show that it just will not accept this sort of action.”

Shortly after Valdez’s arrest, Kadena Air Base held “commander’s calls” with its airmen to discuss the incident and their responsibilities as servicemembers.

Officials then issued a curfew for all military and civilian personnel working and living on the base. The curfew later gave way to liberty restrictions for junior airmen and some others.

Kadena officials admit the curfew was politically expedient but have said repeatedly that liberty restrictions were a response to several alcohol-related crimes and incidents over a long period.

Still, many airmen have indicated they consider the Valdez arrest the catalyst for the current restrictions.

Paoli said the Air Force can proceed with administrative action against Valdez at its discretion after the 18th Wing receives case documents from the Japanese court, which could take several weeks. Until then, he said, Valdez probably will face liberty restrictions and have duties assigned by his commander.

Golden said he’s deployed to several countries and always goes out of his way to be friendly to locals. He also said that as the parent of two children, he cannot help but put himself in the Japanese girl’s parents’ position.

“I worry about the girl and her parents. Do they feel like they got justice?” he asked. “I get mad because I think of my kid. I really don’t know what I’d do if that happened.”

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