NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy is telling its leaders around the world to work harder on preventing sexual assaults by sailors after two enlisted men were arrested in Japan on rape charges, inflaming tensions with a critical ally in the region.
The alleged rape was reported Oct. 16 in Okinawa, leading to an uproar on the island and a sharp rebuke from the Japanese government. According to Japanese media, the sailors had been drinking before they attacked the woman, in her 20s, who was on her way home before dawn.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family. We cannot comprehend the grief and trauma she has endured. We are appalled that such violent criminal behavior reportedly emerged from our ranks," Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces command, wrote in a message to their top officers and enlisted leaders on Nov 3.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the message on Friday.
Charged in the case are Seaman Christopher Browning of Athens, Texas, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker of Muskogee, Okla. Both are 23, joined the military in 2008 and are assigned to Joint Naval Air Station, Fort Worth, Texas.
Following their arrest, all U.S. military personnel in the country were subjected to a curfew and other restrictions by U.S. Forces Japan. The 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew applies to U.S. military personnel whether they are stationed in Japan or just visiting. It requires them to be in their homes, on base or wherever they are lodging.
Tensions between the U.S. military and their Okinawan hosts are long-standing.
Local opposition to the U.S. bases over noise, safety concerns and crime flared into mass protests after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen. That outcry eventually led to an agreement to close a major Marine airfield, but that plan has stalled for more than a decade over where a replacement facility should be located.
"All hands must understand that liberty is a mission with strategic implications. Our warfighting strategy relies in part on the willingness of host nations to provide our forces access to their ports. To support this mission area, our sailors must be exemplary ambassadors of our Navy and our nation," Haney and Gortney wrote.
Sexual assaults have long been a problem in the Navy, with 496 involving sailors being reported in the 2012 fiscal year.
The Navy has placed unprecedented attention on addressing the issue this year, hoping the continued involvement of its top admirals will send a message that it's not something that will be tolerated.
"These staggering numbers and the horrific incident in Okinawa gives us all reason for action," Haney and Gortney wrote.
Among other things, the Navy has been working to reduce alcohol abuse and get junior sailors to step in and stop their colleagues from putting themselves in a situation where an assault might occur before it ever happens.
Haney and Gortney's message reiterated the importance of making sure every commanding officer's crew does that.
"Our professional and personal behavior directly affects our warfighting readiness," they wrote. "This inappropriate behavior is unacceptable. We demand your attention and leadership."