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SAN DIEGO - Starting this weekend, thousands of junior military service members in Japan now must have a designated "liberty buddy" from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, according to the latest liberty policy issued Friday for U.S. troops in Japan.
Service members there have been under a strict curfew directed by Air Force Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella, the U.S. Forces Japan commander, on Oct. 19. No one is allowed to be off base or away from their off-base home from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., unless they are on a mission or have their commander's permission.
The new liberty program applies to E-4s and below, covering the ranks of Marine corporals, Navy third-class petty officers, Army and Air Force senior airmen, Army corporals and specialists and below. And those who are authorized by their command to be off-base during curfew hours must have a buddy.
A service member can have as a liberty buddy another active-duty service member; a spouse or other adult who has Status of Forces Agreement status; or an adult approved by a commander in the rank of O-5 or above, said Lt. Col. David Honchul, a USFJ spokesman.
The buddy policy has several exceptions, Honchul said. These include: service members traveling between their off-base residence and their installation; two service members who are "liberty buddies" and have to travel between their different bases; and service members who have waivers from their commanders, who can grant them on a case-by-case basis, but are without a buddy after 7 p.m.
Angelella directed his service component commanders to implement an off-base buddy system for service members, but left most of the details to them. "Depending on where they are and which service they are, they will decide which of their young service members have to have a buddy with them when they travel off the base," Angelella told reporters during a Dec. 6 briefing at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
Some commands in Japan, including III Marine Expeditionary Force, already require liberty buddies for junior personnel and others deemed at risk of getting into trouble on liberty. Vice Adm. Scott Swift, the 7th Fleet commander, said in a recent Navy Times interview that the restrictions will depend on the buddy system and the honor system to enforce the rules and hold sailors accountable.
The buddy requirement is the latest restriction on off-duty liberty ordered by top commanders in Japan since the Oct. 16 alleged rape of a woman by two sailors in Okinawa. Top Navy commanders in Japan ordered a ban on consuming alcohol from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. in any on- or off-base private homes and quarters. In Okinawa, a strict off-base alcohol ban is in effect, and sobriety tests will be done on drivers, passengers and pedestrians leaving the military bases to go out into town.
Angelella continues to discuss the issue with his commanders as they weigh a more permanent policy for all service members in Japan, since U.S. Forces Japan had no Japan-wide liberty policy in place before the curfew was imposed.
The curfew "was meant to be a temporary measure," Honchul said. The next step, he added, will be "a more uniformed liberty policy...that would be a long-term solution."