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There have been more than 20 incidents since the first of the year, including at least four in May, that involved Japanese police and media coverage, 7th Fleet reported.
Public affairs from 7th Fleet was unable to provide full details of each of these cases, but some have been widely reported.
■Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class (SW) Kristopher Lee Murphy was arrested May 12 for allegedly breaking into and falling asleep in an elementary school around 7:45 p.m., Stars and Stripes reported. Police found the sailor, assigned to the destroyer Stethem, after a school alarm went off; he reportedly had been been drinking. It’s unclear how he got into the school, though he’s suspected of breaking the glass front door of Hisagi Elementary School near Yokosuka.
■Seaman Matthew Forrester, assigned to the amphibious assault ship Peleliu, was fined after pleading guilty to groping a waitress in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, on April 17, the South China Morning Post reported. The sailor, who admitted to being drunk during the incident, was fined 1,000 Hong Kong dollars, equivalent to about $128.
■Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Equipment Apprentice Manuel Silva was arrested around 3 a.m. Jan. 21 for allegedly trespassing in Yokosuka, the Japan Daily Press reported. Police were called by several people in the neighborhood complaining that their doorbells had been rung. They allegedly found him lying in a 72-year-old woman’s yard. The story in the English-language Japanese paper opined that “it should be more than apparent by now that [the] 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew ... is not doing enough to deter late night crimes.”
■Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Richard Lawton was arrested in Yokosuka for trespassing early on the morning of Jan. 13, Stars and Stripes reported. Lawton was accused of being drunk and in violation of the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. The charges were dropped against Lawton, though no details were given as to why.
■Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Jon Canfield was arrested Jan. 21 after he allegedly punched a Japanese man in the face, Stars and Stripes reported. The Japanese man was reportedly trying to stop Canfield from harassing a woman in Yokohama around 3 p.m. Canfield was accused of being drunk.
After yet another string of embarrassing incidents, leaders in 7th Fleet are cracking down on bad sailor behavior. This time, commanding officers are reviewing all personnel records to identify previous incidents that might flag a troublemaker and then taking the necessary precautions to rein him in — and hopefully avoiding another international incident in the process.
In addition to reviews, all sailors under the control of 7th Fleet were required to participate in a half-day “all hands personal behavior standdown” by May 17. The discussion topics were to include personal conduct, alcohol abuse, sexual assault, liberty policies and bystander intervention.
“We must collectively embrace an attitude of ‘not in my Navy, not in my fleet,’” wrote Vice Adm. Scott Swift, 7th Fleet’s commander, in a fleetwide message. “We are being collectively defined by the actions of a few who will not follow our core values or standards. We are the only ones that can change this. No one is going to fix this for us and these individuals are not going to fix themselves.”
Since Jan. 1, there have been more than 20 incidents involving sailor misconduct. “Four in the last 10 days included involvement by Japanese police and media visibility,” states the May 15 memo.
“This behavior is unacceptable and places the U.S. relationship with our host nations at significant risk,” Swift said.
He urged leaders in 7th Fleet’s area of operations, but not under its command, to follow suit and also conduct standdowns and personnel records reviews. There are roughly 40,000 sailors in 7th Fleet at any given time, with many forward-deployed to Japan.
The initial record reviews were also ordered to be completed by May 17. But Swift said leaders must be vigilant and “continue to look for at-risk sailors and address their problems before they lead to larger behavior issues that affect us as sailors and our host nation relations.”
The records inspections are expected to work like this: Leadership takes a “fresh look” at each sailor, seeking out recent behavior that might have slipped under the radar, said 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Ron Steiner. Commanding officers and officers-in-charge will have discretion to implement “liberty controls” on an individual basis or as a group.
For the individual sailor, this could mean additional counseling or receiving a liberty risk designation, with accompanying restrictions. Leaders can also institute a liberty card system, shore patrols or a buddy system, Steiner said.
“All of these tools should be employed in a diligent and coordinated manner and department head/division officer/leading chief petty officer/staff noncommissioned officer involvement at every turn is crucial,” he said.
Steiner added that the reviews were to focus on “unit level records from the time the sailor arrived at a 7th Fleet unit.”
In looking at the recent spate of arrests, Swift wrote that there were indicators in these sailors’ records that could have flagged them and prevented the present problems.
Controversy, particularly in Japan, has been high since the rape of a local girl by two sailors Oct. 16 on Okinawa. Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Christopher Browning and Aviation Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker were later sentenced to 10 and nine years in prison, respectively.
The rape occurred just four days after 7th Fleet announced it was canceling its liberty card program, which since 2004 had mandated a color-coded system of liberty cards, mostly geared to E-5s and below, and mandated liberty buddies when out in town, among other requirements.
In response to the rape and public outcry, 7th Fleet set an 11 p.m. curfew for all its sailors. After a string of more sailor incidents, a Nov. 23 message tightened the liberty rules even further, mandating that all drinking stop by 10 p.m. both on and off base. Any sailor who had been put on Class C restriction, the most-limiting liberty status, in the past three years was returned to that status.
This series of steps prompted many sailors to complain they were being punished for the actions of a small number of sailors.
In the subsequent months the restrictions were loosened.
Seventh Fleet sailors in Japan now follow these rules: Between midnight and 5 a.m., all sailors E-5 and below must either be on a U.S. military installation, in an off-installation residence or lodging (including a hotel) or performing official duties, Steiner said. Drinking is banned between these hours, unless a sailor is on an installation or an off-installation residence, quarters or lodging, Steiner said.
For older sailors, the controversy will sound very familiar. A strained relationship between U.S. service members and the Japanese public dates back to 1995, when a sailor and two Marines raped a local schoolgirl on Okinawa. Anti-U.S. groups have protested the military’s presence on the island ever since, and this new string of events is reopening old wounds.
But one Japanese official was also apologizing this month after controversial comments regarding prostitution. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto suggested that U.S. troops based in southern Japan should patronize legal adult entertainment establishments to reduce sex crime there. He also said that the Japanese practice in World War II of forcing Asian women into prostitution was necessary to maintain discipline and provide relaxation for soldiers.
Hashimoto’s comments, which he later acknowledged were inappropriate and a mistake, have angered both American military leaders and the Japanese public.