USFJ commander stresses 'zero-tolerance' policy on off-base misconduct
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The top U.S. military official in Japan and Okinawa has issued a policy letter reinforcing “zero tolerance” toward off-base misconduct by servicemembers and others covered by the status of forces agreement.
“We’re human. We make mistakes,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, U.S. Forces Japan commander, said in a Wednesday interview with Stars and Stripes to publicize the initiative. “But we must maintain professionalism at all times. I think most people get it. We just have to educate those very few who … don’t understand the standards of a majority of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
The initiative grew out of a closed-door session Feb. 10 during a conference with senior military leaders gathered at Camp Butler, Okinawa. There, U.S. State Department and military representatives addressed potential damage to the U.S.-Japan alliance from criminal acts. That meeting included U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer.
The letter was signed Feb. 27 by Wright and commanders of U.S. Army Japan, the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and Commander, Naval Forces Japan. It directs a range of actions toward stemming future incidents. It also calls for improved reporting and analysis to boost U.S.-Japanese law enforcement coordination.
The policy comes in the aftermath of several high-profile crimes involving servicemembers. Among them was the Jan. 3 beating death of a 56-year-old Japanese woman. On the opening day of his robbery-murder trial in Yokosuka District Court on March 17, USS Kitty Hawk Airman William Oliver Reese Jr., 21, admitted to killing the woman, Yoshie Sato.
The new guideline isn’t really a change but instead is “meant to empower, encourage and enable the chain of command at the lowest levels” to enforce measures governing conduct, order and discipline, Wright said.
“The rules are pretty clear in each of our services and the standards already high,” he said. “This is just elaborating on why professionalism is so critical to an assignment here in Japan.”
Wright said the letter “lets people know Japan is the last place you want to do anything that can be labeled misconduct. Every service is … cooperating in this message. There are no seams and no gaps in the chain of command as to where we’re coming from.”
He said almost all servicemembers and civilians “adhere to the highest standards of professionalism, personal conduct and behavior,” adding that off-base incidents and crime rates among U.S. personnel are declining.
“The declines tell us we’re on the right path,” he said. “But in Japan, even one incident can have very negative consequences for the [U.S-Japanese] alliance.
USFJ leaders may “take all necessary efforts to reduce and prevent” criminal misconduct, according to the policy letter.
“An important part of this initiative is to get everyone involved,” Chief Master Sgt. James A. Roy, senior enlisted leader for USFJ, was quoted saying in a press release announcing the policy. “We expect our junior enlisted and noncommissioned officers to foster our military values.”
Because of the differences in mission and structure within the U.S. military in Japan, component commanders will be responsible for implementing the USFJ policy within their commands, the release said. Commanders are expected to share effective strategies and evaluate results at their next conference.
Pointing to the role individual actions play in maintaining U.S.-Japanese relations, Wright said, “You can’t have a strong alliance without a professional force and just being good neighbors with our host country.”