Yokosuka ships lighten up on sailor liberty plan
January 28, 2008
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The sweet taste of freedom can now be found in Taco Bell — or McDonald’s, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremy Norris.
It doesn’t matter which, because what matters most is that he can now choose one lunch joint over another without having to make a phone call to change his liberty plan.
Loosening up the liberty plan policy is “a good idea,” the USS Kitty Hawk sailor said at Yokosuka Naval Base on Friday.
“It’s more freedom,” Norris said. “We can go out — and as long as we’re responsible — we can do what we want to do without having to call 12 people if we change our minds.”
Sailors E-5 and below in Commander Task Force 70 had been required to account for their off-ship activities in a weekly log. That rule was “relaxed” this month, said CTF-70 spokeswoman Cmdr. Jensin Sommer.
Affected ships include the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, guided-missile cruisers USS Cowpens and USS Shiloh, and the seven guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 15: USS John McCain, USS Curtis Wilbur, USS Lassen, USS Fitzgerald, USS Stethem, USS Mustin and USS McCampbell.
Now, only “white card holders” — sailors new to Japan or those deemed a liberty risk — have to write and follow liberty plans. “White cards” also mean a midnight curfew for those holding them.
“Blue card” sailors with overnight liberty no longer have to fill out the plans.
The change was made by commanding officer Adm. Richard Wren on Jan. 18, Sommer said.
In a written statement, Wren said the old policy “had run its course and is no longer needed.”
“Since taking command of CTF 70, I have been evaluating sailors’ behavioral trends and liberty programs. For the past several months I have been actively working to revise the policy,” Wren said in the statement. “I believe these sailors have proven themselves reliable and have behaved as expected on liberty.”
A rash of liberty incidents — including the January 2006 murder of a 56-year-old Yokosuka woman by a Kitty Hawk sailor — was behind the introduction of the original policy in March 2006, Sommer said.
Leadership was required to “spot check” a certain percentage of sailors nightly to see if liberty plans were being followed. Sailors also were required to contact their bosses anytime their plans changed or face nonjudicial punishment for failing to follow the liberty plan.
Sailors, especially blue card holders, say they like the new policy much better than the old one.
“It’s nice to be treated like adults,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron Zuniga said Friday. “As long we’re staying out of trouble, it’s really none of their business.”