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thedrifter
02-24-08, 10:43 AM
Troops at Okinawa, Japan bases react to restrictions
Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, February 24, 2008

An incident like the alleged rape of a 14-year-old by a U.S. Marine affects everybody, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jamel Pittman.

“I think something like that disgraces the uniform; we all feel degraded,” the USS Kitty Hawk sailor said.

The incident, and other recent crimes by servicemembers in Japan, has led to restrictions limiting off-base activities of all status of forces personnel on Okinawa and Marine bases in Japan.

“They say ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch,’ but I don’t think that everyone should be punished,” Pittman said. “Restrictions like those are hard to live with — especially if you have a family.”

While Pittman and others at bases in mainland Japan spoke about their thoughts on Friday’s training and the restrictions, Stars and Stripes reporters were not allowed to conduct interviews on Okinawa bases concerning the Day of Reflection. Military officials turned down all requests to conduct man-on-the-street interviews on the bases and to attend the mandatory training held for active-duty personnel and Defense Department civilians.

SOFA-status personnel on Okinawa contacted by telephone or in their off-base quarters were reluctant to be quoted by name concerning the restrictions and the events leading up to the general’s order.

A civilian drug and alcohol counselor said he has conducted several talks with active-duty servicemembers in the past week.

“The lower-ranked enlisted guys are not happy about having to stay on the bases, but most of them realize it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “The Okinawans need to know the military is taking this very seriously. I think the people who are really going to suffer are the businesses outside the gates that rely on American customers.”

A Marine major contacted by telephone also supported Marine Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer’s order to restrict all personnel on Okinawa sponsored by the military to the bases or their off-base homes.

“It doesn’t bother me much, because I’m an old man and don’t go off base much,” he said. “But, yeah, the younger Marines are upset. One of the great things about Okinawa are all of the recreational facilities — the boating and diving — that they won’t be able to do.

“But the general did the right thing,” he added. “It was certainly the political thing to do. Let’s just hope that nobody does anything stupid this weekend and the restriction can be lifted soon.”

Some hoped that the Day of Reflection would help keep additional restrictions at bay.

“I think it will show them more about how we should behave, so we don’t end up having restrictions like the other bases do,” said Seaman Michael Marquez of Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. “If we don’t keep the problems down out in town we might end up having the same thing.”

Marquez, who works in security, said base restrictions are a “last resort” measure and are not ideal. “I think it’s like most restrictions — if you tell someone not to do something, they are going to try to find a way around it,” he said.

Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, spouse LaTonya Williams said she recognized that the “Japanese aren’t very happy with us right now,” but since nothing has been proven yet, restrictions should reflect that.

But reflection — and restriction — are OK in certain instances and should be a matter of course for younger sailors around the holidays, she said.

“It’s hard when you have a lot of young people in the military,” Williams said. “It would probably be better if they recruited more sailors with families to come to Japan instead of the young, single ones who are more likely to get in trouble.”

It’s not only the Japanese who are upset about safety in the wake of the incident. Yokosuka spouse Edlin Bradley said she worries about her safety as well, given the feelings about the issue outside the gate.

“It makes me a little scared to go out in town,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t make you feel very safe.”

Still, she would just as soon make that decision herself, as opposed to being restricted to base, she said. Airman 1st Class Joshua Aldrich, 22, of Misawa Air Base, Japan, said he thought the restrictions served another purpose.

“It sends a message to the Japanese government that the military does have things under control,” he said.

Aldrich felt the Day of Reflection was necessary. When he read news reports about the alleged rape, “I was so angry,” he said. “I don’t know if everyone in there (training) knew what happened, but they need to.”

Airman 1st Class Katherine Belk, 21, works nights at the hospital on Yokota Air Base, Japan, in the family care unit, and she often misses out on news reports. So part of Friday’s briefing at the movie theater on Yokota helped her hear firsthand about the accusations and reactions surrounding the alleged rape on Feb. 10.

“We are in the spotlight,” said Belk. “We need to act right. Any minute things could escalate.”

Others echoed Belk’s opinion.

“Based on recent events, it’s important to take a pause and reflect on why we are here in Japan,” said Capt. Craig Daniel, the company commander for U.S. Army Japan Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Camp Zama. “We’re visitors to Japan and should act accordingly.”

Zama civilian Dennis Polaski, director of Public Works for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, said the training was important for both civilians and servicemembers.

“It really hit home,” he said. “I don’t think there was a single person who came out of there who didn’t learn something new.”

An incident involving a servicemember on Okinawa can have a ripple effect as far north as sleepy Misawa, said Master Sgt. Robert Briggs, 41, a security forces member at Misawa.

“Everyone outside the gate, they don’t see Marine, they see military,” he said. “This incident affects everybody.”

Stars and Stripes reporters David Allen, Allison Batdorff, Jennifer Svan, Teri Weaver, Travis Tritten and Bryce Dubee contributed to this story.

Ellie