Navy Lifts Midnight Curfew on Sailors in Japan

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Junior sailors in Japan no longer have their off-hours restricted after Navy officials lifted the liberty card program last week.

The program that imposed midnight curfews on sailors between the pay grades of E-1 and E-4 was canceled on Friday in a memo issued by the 7th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Scott Swift, and Commander Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. Dan Cloyd.

“The liberty card program treats all E4 and junior sailors as if they are expected to engage in misconduct – this occurs in only a very small minority of E4 and junior sailors,” the memo stated. “The decision to cancel the liberty card program is in recognition that the vast majority of our sailors are overwhelmingly outstanding.”

The cancellation will return responsibility to commanding officers to develop policies governing sailor conduct, 7th Fleet officials told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.

The basic program has been known in previous years by names like the Exceptional Sailor Program and went through periodic revisions since appearing in its most recent form in 2004. Its introduction was largely viewed at the time as a move to mollify the concerns of Japanese civic groups and officials, following a spate of off-base incidents involving sailors and Japanese nationals.

Under the liberty card program, sailors in pay grades E-4 and below had to apply for unrestricted liberty through their commands, which issued color-coded cards that identified their status to shore patrol officials.

The Marines and Air Force adopted similar programs during the past decade, following separate incidents in Okinawa.

Despite the program cancellation, an order restricting late-night public consumption of alcohol remains in effect for all sailors in Japan, Navy region officials said Wednesday.

All active-duty sailors in Japan are barred from drinking in public from midnight to 6 a.m. between Monday and Friday. Public drinking is prohibited from 2-6 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, according to a standing order issued in 2010.

There are no restrictions on drinking in private areas.

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