U.S. Naval Forces Japan Lifts Drinking Ban
On Monday, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan lifted a ban on sailors' off-base consumption of alcohol, which had been enacted June 6 in an effort to improve behavior and reduce tensions with the Japanese government. The announcement affects all 18,000 Navy servicemembers within the command.
Restrictions on on-base drinking and drinking in personal accommodations off-base have already been lifted. Sailors will still be prohibited from drinking after 2200 hours, and all personnel below petty officer second class will be required to have a "liberty buddy" off base. They must also file a detailed plan with their superiors regarding their intentions while on liberty; these restrictions may be lifted if off-base behavior remains good, the command said in a statement.
“Over the past few weeks, the performance of sailors across Japan has been outstanding,” said commander RAdm. Matthew Carter. “They recognize that liberty is a mission, especially here in Japan. They know that their performance in this mission area has a direct impact in preserving the vital strategic relationship with the Japanese, and preserving peace and stability in the Western Pacific.”
During the ban – which also included a brief period of confinement to base, except for family or duty-related trips – every U.S. Navy sailor in Japan received "remediation training" from superiors on responsible consumption.
“We need to be proactive in identifying at-risk personnel . . . we will not allow alcohol-related incidents to degrade our force and impact our ability to defend Japan and provide security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, early this month. He said Monday that "we’re on a good start, a good trend, and I want this to continue.”
A string of recent high-profile arrests of servicemembers or contractors – including one suspected murder and one accident involving drunk driving – have complicated already-strained ties, notably on Okinawa, where the local government openly opposes a U.S. military presence. President Barack Obama addressed the discipline question with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a state visit in May: "We want to see a crime like this prosecuted here in the same way that we would feel horrified and want to provide a sense of justice to a victim's family back in the U.S.," he said, adding that the U.S. would cooperate fully, work to prevent recurrence and ensure that "justice is done under the Japanese legal system."
The Navy's Seventh Fleet, based out of Japan, faces additional reputational challenges from a long-running procurement scandal centered on ship agency Glenn Defense Marine Asia: prosecutors allege that over a dozen officers and civilian employees provided the firm with classified information and conspired to route vessels to ports where there was little competition, allowing GDMA to overcharge the Navy a total of about $20 million. Some consider it the worst corruption scandal in the service’s history.
Former deputy of fleet operations Cmdr. Mike Misiewicz, who pled guilty to conspiracy and bribery in January, recently told Defense News that GDMA – and its principal, Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis – filled an important niche, cajoling and bribing local officials to smooth the way for a Navy port call. “For us to get a ship to a port, Leonard did our dirty work. That’s the best way, and most blunt way that you could describe that happening," he said. "He was a crook, but he was our crook."