Seventh Fleet Bans Alcohol and Keeps Sailors On Base
The U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet and the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Japan have banned sailors from most off-base liberty and from consuming alcohol ashore following a series of high-profile incidents of alleged misconduct on the island of Okinawa.
An alcohol ban aboard U.S. naval vessels has been in place for more than 100 years, but a shoreside prohibition is an unusual step.
The 19,000 sailors stationed in Japan will still be allowed off base for official duties, for travel to and from work and for family purposes such as childcare pick-up / drop-off or grocery shopping. Leisure trips have been curtailed.
"The liberty curtailment will remain in effect until face-to-face training has been conducted by unit commanding officers, executive officers and command master chiefs with all personnel," said the statement from Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan. "For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the U.S-Japan alliance as a whole."
Contractors and family will not be affected by the ban, but Stars and Stripes reports that they are encouraged to participate.
The measures respond to a string of allegations regarding off-base misconduct on Okinawa, including a traffic incident Saturday in which an intoxicated petty officer drove on the wrong side of the road, striking two cars and injuring two civilians. Other incidents have been more severe: a civilian contractor was recently arrested in connection with the death of a 20-year-old Japanese woman, on suspicion of murder; and a sailor was detained in March on suspicion of rape. President Barack Obama expressed his regret and sympathy during a visit in May. "I think the Japanese people should know we are deeply moved and working with he Japanese government to prosecute not only this crime but prevent these kinds of crimes from happening again,” he said.
Relations on the island have been strained for decades, and Okinawa's current governor is openly opposed to a longstanding plan to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another part of the island – calling instead for the facility to be removed from the prefecture altogether.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, noted the high performance of almost all servicemembers in the command, and encouraged all to help the Navy improve its local relations. "The overwhelming majority of our sailors are doing an outstanding job every single day. But that same majority — at every paygrade — is also responsible for providing leadership on all levels. We will not condone misconduct that impacts our ability to conduct our mission or which jeopardizes our critical alliance with Japan,” he said.
In addition to discipline troubles at its home ports, the Seventh Fleet faces reputational risk from the long-running Glenn Defense Marine Asia procurement corruption scandal, which has ended in prosecutions and convictions for several former servicemembers.