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US Institutes 'Buddy Program' for Troops in Japan

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- The U.S. military instituted a “buddy program” Friday for all servicemembers in Japan going to off-base bars and other places that serve liquor.

Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, directed each of the services to begin implementing the program, which would require servicemembers to pair up to go out. A detailed policy is expected to be issued next week.

The policy is the latest initiative aimed at ending a series of criminal acts by servicemembers. Last month, two U.S. sailors were charged with gang-raping a woman on Okinawa.

Angelella then instituted an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for all U.S. servicemembers in Japan. But a number of servicemembers have still been arrested for alcohol-fueled misconduct.

Each base and post is producing its own interim policy, according to USFJ spokesman Lt. Col. David Honchul. USFJ expects to “finalize a more measured, consistent approach” to the buddy program sometime next week, Honchul said in an email.

As such, details such as who must be accompanied by a buddy and what hours the policy will be in effect will vary for the time being, he said.

For example, airmen at Yokota Air Base who are E-4s and below are required to have a buddy from 5 p.m.-5 a.m. if they visit an off-base establishment that serves alcohol, such as restaurants, bars and clubs.

Airmen must be accompanied by a buddy going to, spending time at and returning from such establishments.

Qualifying buddies for Yokota airmen are an active-duty servicemember; an individual in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement, such as a spouse, family member or U.S. civilian employee; or another individual deemed responsible, such a non-U.S. national who’s been approved by a commander ranking O-5 or greater.

On Thursday, Angelella announced that a hotline is being established to allow bar owners to call military base security personnel to round up servicemembers who are at risk of serious misconduct.

Angelella said the goal is “zero” crime by servicemembers and that the curfew would remain in effect until troops “understand the implications of their actions.”

Commanders throughout Japan are at liberty to introduce their own measures to curtail off-base problems.

Sailors, for example, were banned Monday from drinking alcohol after 10 p.m., even at home.

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