ADDS PENTAGON STATEMENT
By Kasim Ileri
WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. Navy on Monday banned sailors in Japan from drinking alcohol following a string of recent high-profile incidents involving personnel.
"Effective immediately, sailors are prohibited from drinking alcohol, on and off base. Additionally, all off-base liberty will be curtailed," according to a statement from the 7th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Japan.
“The liberty curtailment will remain in effect until face-to-face training has been conducted by unit commanding officers, executive officers and command master chiefs with all personnel,” it added.
The measures comes after Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, who is assigned to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, was arrested Saturday after driving the wrong way on a freeway and crashed into two vehicles.
Last month, a U.S. civilian personnel at the Okinawa base was arrested on suspicion of rape, murder and the disposal of the body of a 20-year-old Japanese woman. He was apparently drunk when he assaulted and forced the victim into his car.
The Navy said alcohol-related incidents are “detrimental to the U.S.-Japan alliance.
“These measures are not taken lightly," Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, commander of Naval Forces Japan, said in the statement. "For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole."
The restriction will remain in effect until the Navy is “comfortable” that the sailors will behave responsibly.
Nearly 19,000 U.S. troops are stationed at American bases in Japan.
A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department regrets the accident this weekend that forced the Navy to put in place the new policy.
“I think the commander was making the most appropriate decision they felt with regard to this particular incident and the message to send to forces in Okinawa in Japan,” Peter Cook said during a press conference, noting that it is also a message for Japan about “the seriousness” of the U.S. in handling these issues.
“The department remains committed to working with the government of Japan and the people of Japan to prevent such incidents in the future,” he added.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter also extended his regrets to his Japanese counterpart, Gen Nakatani, about the death of the female victim when the two leaders met last week at sidelines of a security conference in Singapore.