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Questions of ‘Why’ asked as SOFA personnel lockdown continues

Date Posted: 2008-02-28

The Okinawa Area Coordinator and senior U.S. military commander on the island has reiterated the ‘Period of Reflection’ will remain in place indefinitely, while procedures and orders governing conduct and discipline of all US service members on Okinawa are reexamined.

Lieutenant General Richard C. Zilmer confirmed Tuesday he has no plans for an immediate end to the lockdown, which has all SOFA personnel, including family members and civilians, restricted to the bases and a limited number of outside locations. He did, however, indicate he’ll take another look at the order next Monday.

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as SOFA-status civilians and family members are limited to places of employment, worship, education or medical or dental treatment. Off-base travel to local residences and between military installations is authorized via privately owned vehicles, military supported transportation or commercial taxis. Zilmer says there are no restrictions on regularly scheduled activities on U.S. bases or installations, and added “I highly encourage our service members, civilians and family members to continue to utilize the plethora of activities and services aboard all camps and installations.”

Many SOFA-status personnel are irritated by the restrictions, which some are calling “curbs of personal freedoms”, and are questioning why the lockdown is really in effect. The restrictions were imposed February 20th in the aftermath of rape allegations against a U.S. Marine staff sergeant by a 14-year-old girl, a drunk driving incident, a trespassing case in Henoko, and a counterfeiting arrest all against Marines, and the apprehension of an Army sergeant accused of raping a Filipina bar worker.

Japan Update Forums are filled with frustrated postings by individuals questioning why the lockdown is broad-brush, instead of targeted against individuals and groups thought to be potential troublemakers. They question why local stores, supermarkets and restaurants are off limits, wondering what the military leadership’s real agenda is. Wanting to know why the businesses “that make Okinawa home for U.S. troops” are being punished.

A directive from Torii Station’s Deputy Garrison Commander Tuesday told the troops Tuesday that gate deliveries “by certain commercial vendors, eating establishments and other commercial activities have been started as a ‘work around’ to the Period of Reflection restrictions,” and said guidance is quite clear the work-arounds are contrary to the intent of Zilmer’s order. Chris Grigsby told troops and civilians in a memo “we cannot restrict the commercial activities, of course, but SOFA personnel arranging a delivery of goods or services at the front gate is a clear violation of the intent of the restrictions.”

The military, meanwhile, has promised to report annually how many personnel and families are living off base, and agreed to review screening criteria for those permitted to go off-base on liberty. Japan’s Foreign Minister called the moves positive, and said Japan will assist by adding security surveillance cameras and joint police patrols in areas frequented by troops.

Masahiko Komura says data on American military personnel living off-base will go to the government, which will “in an appropriate manner” share the information with local authorities. Komura says nearly half the American military population in Japan is based in Okinawa, some 44,963. Of those, the Foreign Minister noted, 10,748 live off-base in local communities.

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