Sailors in Japan will be able to drink alcohol in homes and quarters after 10 p.m. thanks to an update to the Navy's liberty restrictions, but late-night drinking is still banned off base in places like Okinawa's American Village, shown in this 2008 photo. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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Starting Wednesday, top Navy commanders in Japan are lifting a late-night ban on drinking alcohol in homes and quarters.
The ban, which took effect Nov. 23, has prohibited sailors from having alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m. The policy change easing the restriction, announced in a message released Monday, still prohibits sailors from drinking alcohol off base, including bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as hotels, after 10 p.m.
"Service members may responsibly consume alcohol in an on-base facility until the normal facility closure," Vice Adm. Scott Swift, the 7th Fleet commander, wrote in the message endorsed by Rear Adm. Dan Cloyd, who commands Naval Forces Japan in Yokosuka.
Swift and Cloyd had imposed the alcohol-at-home ban and other measures, including restrictions for sailors with prior alcohol-related incidents, to help curb crimes and embarrassing conduct after a spate of off-duty incidents involving allegedly drunken service members. Those restrictions apply to Naval Forces Japan and all military personnel assigned to 7th Fleet or operating anywhere in the 7th Fleet region with the exception of Guam, according to the message.
The 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew U.S. Forces Japan imposed Oct. 19 for all troops in Japan remains in effect. Only service members who are on official duty or missions or have waivers or permission for overnight liberty from their commands are allowed to be away from their base, ship or off-base residence during that period.
"I am confident that senior leaders in [7th Fleet] fully understand the need for a positive culture that continually reinforces our Navy core values and that fosters and environment of positive decision making while on liberty," Swift wrote in the latest message.
Swift, the senior naval officer in Japan, has said the liberty restrictions would be "temporary." The recent liberty incidents, which have ranged from alleged rape to assault and trespassing, were "aberrations," he said in a Nov. 27 interview. The liberty restrictions reflect "the requirement that we have to achieve a higher standard that is expected of us now."
In a Dec. 7 interim policy, U.S. Forces Japan directed that every junior personnel in the ranks of E-4 and below http://www.navytimes.com/news/2012/12/navy-liberty-buddies-junior-troops-japan-120812/">must have a "liberty buddy" when going outside military installations anytime from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. The only exceptions are those members traveling between their off-base quarters and military installations and those picking up or dropping off their buddies at their homes, officials said.