Tighter Kadena curfew feels like timeout to airmen
January 31, 2006
OKINAWA CITY — Airman 1st Class Carlos Ranola kept a sharp eye on the time while saying goodbye to his friends at a popular garlic-themed restaurant Saturday night.
Ranola leaves Kadena Air Base in a few days for his next duty station. He’s had a good time living on Okinawa, but he says he also feels like he’s missed out.
“If it weren’t for the curfew, I know I would have enjoyed Okinawa the way I wanted to,” Ranola said.
Kadena Air Base’s temporary curfew began just after midnight Saturday, cutting back further on late-night excursions for junior airmen like Ranola, who already have lived with liberty restrictions since July 2005.
Previously, airmen with blue liberty cards were required to be on base or in their off-base quarters between midnight and 5 a.m. on weekdays and by 1 a.m. on weekends. Under the current curfew, airmen of all ranks on Okinawa must be in from midnight to 5 a.m every day.
Base officials say the current curfew is meant to encourage mission readiness while asking airmen to do a better job of looking out for each other on liberty. The curfew came after a string of alcohol-related incidents that ranged from assault to trespassing.
However, the curfew affects airmen with little or no drinking in their plans.
Far from all-night barhopping, Ranola talks about things such as late-night bike rides around the island and lighting fireworks at the beach. Ranola said he also gave up on a potential side career as a disc jockey because of his liberty card restrictions.
“An aspiring DJ can’t be a DJ with a curfew,” Ranola said. “Once the curfew started, I stopped trying.”
Airman 1st Class Hayk Bostandjian cut short a late night game of Trivial Pursuit at a friend’s house to make it back to base.
“I know it’s not supposed to be a punishment, but it definitely feels like punishment,” Bostandjian said.
Bostandjian and others also wonder if the curfew will have the unintended effect of keeping some airman out in bars until 5 a.m. if they realize they’ll be a few minutes late.
“I appreciate that they’re trying to make our stay with the Okinawan people better as far as being good ambassadors,” Bostandjian said. “At the same time, they’re punishing most of the airman that haven’t done anything wrong.”
Although base officials have not released a time frame for the current curfew, they have said that it’s temporary. Many airmen don’t expect it to last very long, but rumors persist about changes to the liberty card program, which will go back into effect when the temporary curfew ends.
18th Wing vice commander Col. Jeff Kennedy said last week that liberty program changes had not been discussed; however, he noted that incoming commander Brig. Gen. Harold Moulton could make changes if he saw fit.
Some airmen have suggestions if Moulton does put his own stamp on the liberty card program.
A less arbitrary way of giving out the silver unrestricted liberty card would be a start, Senior Airman William Bentley said.
While he acknowledges that it’s a long shot, the base also could attempt to strike a deal with Japanese bar owners to have them ask to see liberty cards before serving airmen, Bentley said.
“But the curfew alone is not going to fix any problems,” Bentley said. “All it’s going to do is bring the problems on base. We’re not really getting at the core of the problem here.”
Base officials say they don’t expect the present curfew and the more permanent liberty restrictions alone to curb alcohol-related incidents.
Programs such as the “ZZ13” responsible drinking program and the addition of more late-night base activities are part of the plan to promote what they call a “culture change” in regard to binge drinking.
However, the sheer size of the base means such efforts won’t ever fix the problem entirely, Bentley said.
“They’re trying to eliminate incidents from ever happening,” he said. “The simple fact is that’s not going to happen.”