From the friendly-fire loss of a USS
Kitty Hawk pilot during the war in
Iraq to an already-painful Yokota trial that
turned heart-rending when the accused was found dead the day he was to appear
in court: For the U.S. military in the Pacific, 2003 was marked by tragedy both
public and personal.
Upheaval was a common theme. The Kitty Hawk Battle Group commander was
fired mid-ocean, even as his ships girded for war. Status of forces agreements
between the United States and host nations were attacked as unfair. And a U.S.
Marine major’s controversial — and occasionally astounding — Okinawa rape trial
dragged into its second year.
But 2003 also brought good news. The North Korean nuclear crisis appeared to
cool somewhat. More Marines on Okinawa will be allowed to have accompanied
tours. Defense officials granted increased living allowances and pay raises to
offset the effects of struggling economies. An agreement was reached on
shuffling U.S. bases and thousands of troops in South Korea.
Here are the top twelve Pacific news stories of 2003, as selected by Stars
and Stripes reporters and editors:
Kitty Hawk deploys during war
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — Previous at-sea training and a Persian Gulf deployment
kept the USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group at sea for 80 days — from Jan. 20 until
During the deployment, friendly fire claimed the life of a Navy F/A-18 pilot
from the carrier, Lt. Nathan D. White, 30, of Abilene, Texas. A U.S.-fired
Patriot missile downed White’s fighter around 11:30 p.m. April 2 over Iraq.
White, with Strike Fighter Squadron 195, the Dambusters of Atsugi Naval Air
Facility, Japan, was the only Navy aviator to be killed in the Iraqi war.
The Kitty Hawk, USS Cowpens and USS John S. McCain left the Persian Gulf on
April 13. After returning, the carrier was put in dry dock for several months
of routine maintenance and upgrades.
North Korean nuclear crisis rolls on
Even as South Korea and the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of
the Korean War armistice, tensions over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions
continued. With North Korea threatening to expand its nuclear arsenal — various
intelligence estimates say Pyongyang already has developed at least two nuclear
weapons — and continuing to process enriched uranium and plutonium, the Bush
administration responded with pressure.
As the war in Iraq began, analysts fretted about whether Kim Jong Il would
spark a crisis. As the months went on, six-nation talks helped bring all sides
to the negotiating table. No formal agreement had been reached by year’s end,
but both sides had indicated a willingness to bend from their positions.
Agreement to move U.S. bases in S. Korea
U.S. and South Korean officials agreed to move thousands of U.S. troops to
consolidated hubs and remove all forces from Yongsan Garrison, the largest post
in Seoul. But negotiators failed to agree on a timetable or how to pay for the
Forces at Yongsan Garrison are to be moved to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek by
2006. Many small 2nd Infantry Division camps would close; forces would move
onto hubs at Uijongbu’s Camp Red Cloud and Tongduchon’s Camp Casey. Eventually,
those forces would move south of the Han River.
For years, many South Koreans have called for U.S. troops to move out of the
massive, 800-acre Yongsan Garrison in South Korea’s capital. U.S. officials
agreed. But other South Koreans said U.S. forces should not move while North
Korea’s nuclear weapons program is active.
U.S. officials said weapons technology advances mean troops need not be
stationed close to the Demilitarized Zone. The United States also pledged to
spend $11 billion in weapons and infrastructure over three years to improve
Kitty Hawk Battle Group commander fired
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — USS Kitty Hawk Battle Group Commander Rear Adm. Steven
Kunkle was relieved of command Feb. 13, accused of an "inappropriate
relationship" with a female officer resulting in "a loss of confidence in his
ability to command."
Chief of Staff Capt. Dick Corpus served as acting battle group commander
until Rear Adm. James D. Kelly took over.
Kunkle, assigned temporarily to Commander Naval Forces Japan, received a
letter of reprimand. He’d been at the battle group’s helm since September 2001,
when he took over from Robert G. Willard — the vice admiral who, as 7th Fleet
commander, relieved him of command.
Kunkle’s replacement was the third abrupt 7th Fleet personnel change in the
past 15 months. Willard relieved Capt. Thomas Hejl, Kitty Hawk commanding
officer, on Sept. 3, 2002. And on Dec. 12, Capt. Samuel Perez, commander of
Destroyer Squadron 15, removed USS Gary captain Cmdr. Tito Dua. Seventh Fleet
statements attributed both removals to a "loss of confidence" in the captains’
ability to command.
Marine Maj. Michael Brown’s trial continues
The trial of Marine Maj. Michael Brown, indicted Dec. 19, 2002, on charges of
attempted rape and destroying personal property, continues in Naha, Okinawa,
Brown is accused of attacking a Philippine barmaid who’d given him a ride
after the Camp Courtney Officers Club closed in the early morning hours of Nov.
His trial began in March with something rare for a Japanese court — a
not-guilty plea — and has been punctuated with surprises ever since.
The biggest may have been when the barmaid, Victoria Nakamine, 40, recanted
the charges in May, contending police and prosecutors coerced her into filing
Prosecutors later said Nakamine received $13,500 the day before she recanted
the charges. The money’s source, however, never was disclosed; prosecutors
later backed away from drawing any direct Nakamine-Brown connection.
The judges have not ruled on accepting that evidence because the trial was
suspended in October after Brown requested they remove themselves because of
prejudice. The appeal wound its way to Japan’s Supreme Court, which dismissed
it. Brown’s trial is to resume Jan. 15.
Army major arrested in wife’s killing
In the early hours of Aug. 12, a South Korean highway patrol spotted U.S.
Army Maj. Richard K. Hart struggling to hoist a large plastic package over the
side of a bridge near Incheon International Airport. Minutes later, they
arrested him — and discovered the plastic wrapping contained the nude body of
Patricia Ann Hart, his wife.
The U.S. military charged Hart with murder, obstructing justice, adultery,
assault and, later, disobeying a superior officer’s lawful order. During Hart’s
Article 32 hearing, family members testified about the long-standing physical
and emotional violence that characterized the marriage.
Prosecutors said Hart murdered his wife with premeditation, then attempted to
hide the evidence by dumping her body from the bridge. Defense attorneys said
the death was the accidental result of a fight, partly fueled by the history of
violent encounters between Hart and other family members.
At year’s end, the decision on whether to advance to a formal trial remained
in the hands of the Article 32 hearing officer and a commanding officer.
Status of forces agreement with Japan
Two controversial criminal cases involving U.S. servicemembers sparked calls
to overhaul the U.S.-Japanese status of forces agreement. However, SOFA talks
in Tokyo, Washington and Honolulu ended in stalemate.
U.S. officials were reluctant to allow the pre-indictment turnover of U.S.
servicemembers — and their Japanese counterparts bristled at the U.S. request
to have American officials present during servicemembers’ questioning.
Servicemembers in U.S. military custody when charged with Japanese felonies
usually are not handed over until indictment. And under Japan’s legal system,
suspects have no right to an attorney during police questioning.
In December, the Okinawa Bar Association called for SOFA changes, some of
which would strengthen rights of U.S. servicemembers accused of crimes. Toward
updating the 43-year-old pact, the lawyers’ group proposed supporting early
turnover of defendants, letting defendants have legal representation during
questioning and allowing videotaping of interrogations.
The lawyers said the SOFA lacked provisions that "protect the due human
rights" of SOFA personnel. And, said Tsutomu Arakaki, Okinawa Bar Association
chairman, "Providing adequate human rights to SOFA personnel will lead to the
introduction in Japan of a judicial system that meets international standards,
which, consequently, would be beneficial to Japanese citizens."
USFK creates ‘off-limits’ bars list
After months of allegations the U.S. military supports a sex industry outside
its installations, the Defense Department’s Inspector General investigated
whether U.S. military courtesy patrols were in effect providing security for
soldiers visiting prostitutes. Bases also launched aggressive campaigns to
educate soldiers and warn they could be prosecuted for soliciting prostitution.
The IG found the military has a good education program but some military
police appeared too friendly with bar owners. U.S. Forces Korea banned more
than two dozen bars in Itaewon and a handful of bars near other military
installations. Patrols put bars selling sex off-limits, posting signs at exit
gates around bases. USFK also set up a hot line to report problems related to
trafficking of women.
Longer Okinawa tours for Marines
Marines and their families had mixed views on October’s
announcement that one-year unaccompanied tours to Okinawa will be replaced with
two- or three-year tours.
That means the number of Marine dependents on island could grow from 9,700 to
12,200 by 2008, when the program would be fully implemented.
The change would not affect the 29 percent of Marines on Okinawa for six- and
seven-month unit deployments. Of the remaining permanent personnel now assigned
to Okinawa, about 75 percent are on the island on unaccompanied 12-month tours.
Tunnel dug under base wall to smuggle booze
Among the more audacious recent smuggling schemes, two South Korean men were
busted for smuggling 62,000 cases of beer and wine by tunneling under a U.S.
housing compound wall in Seoul. One formerly had managed Hannam Village’s Army
and Air Force Exchange Services shopette.
The two men built a 60-foot long tunnel system, complete with moving rails
that let them slide cases of beer and wine down a slight grade. The tunnel
connected a metal shipping container inside the base wall with a "front" coffee
shop just outside the gate. Customs officials said the men would run the shop
during the day, then spend night hours piling the alcohol into one of their
After they successfully moved booze off base for more than two years —
netting almost $2 million — a tipster alerted Seoul customs officials. Late
this year, the pair were sentenced to three years in prison and fined $1.6
Just weeks after the tunnel was discovered, three men were arrested for
smuggling thousands of cases of cold medicine, lotion and ham — among other
goods — intended for shelves on Camp Casey. Two of the men were AAFES
employees, police said.
Changes in COLA
For the first time, soldiers in South Korea got a cost-of-living allowance
starting in July, ending a long-standing gripe that the country was just as
expensive as Japan or Germany but no extra money was granted.
A COLA is paid when the average cost of living in an area outside the United
States exceeds the average cost in the United States. The COLA is based on
spendable income and the amount of that income servicemembers spend in the
Outdated surveys had prevented soldiers from getting a COLA in South Korea.
But after finance officials launched an aggressive survey of servicemembers’
current buying habits, the Defense Department Per Diem Committee decided to
grant a COLA that meant hundreds of extra dollars in soldiers’ paychecks.
In Japan, when the U.S. dollar hit three-year lows against the yen this fall,
U.S. servicemembers received cost-of-living allowance increases to help offset
Since August, COLAs for servicemembers in Japan have risen as much as 10
points; each point is worth about $20.
Yokota shocked by death of NCO
YOKOTA AIR BASE — Chief Master Sgt. Winfred B. Harrison, 44, was found dead
Aug. 7, the day he was supposed to be in court facing charges of being absent
without leave and obstructing justice and two counts each of cruelty and
maltreatment, assault and indecent acts.
Yokota officials have yet to release autopsy results that might help
determine cause of death.
After Harrison failed to appear in court, his body was found in a squadron
building. Testimony at pretrial hearings indicated the government would argue
Harrison tried to develop inappropriate and close personal relationships with
two subordinate airmen.
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