U.S. forces commander vows tighter discipline

by Reiji Yoshida

The commander of the U.S. forces in Japan vowed Monday the military will ensure that servicemen and women exhibit “unwavering professionalism” and “the highest-standards of behavior.”

Lt. Gen. Edward Rice Jr., who took command in February, made the pledge before the media in Tokyo in the wake of high-profile alleged crimes by U.S. servicemen, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa and the March robbery-murder of a cabby in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

“The vast majority of tens of thousands of U.S. service members and their families who are stationed and live here in Japan conduct themselves in a way that we are proud of, and I know that,” Rice said at Japan National Press Club.

But U.S. military personnel should not take their assignment in Japan for granted, Rice said, urging them to learn Japanese culture and build a “two-way relationship” to be good members of their communities.

The recent crimes coincided with attempts by opposition parties to block extension of a special accord related to Japan’s host-nation support for personnel and utilities costs at U.S. bases as well as costs for relocation of military drills. The fiscal 2008 total may run to some ¥141.6 billion.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, is against the special accord, saying the budget bears unnecessary expenses, including personnel costs for recreational facilities at U.S. military installations. The facilities include bars, bowling alleys and golf courses.

Rice argued that a “modest level of money” for recreation facilities can be justified as part of the costs to maintain around 50,000 U.S. service members here. This presence, he said, is an important “investment” for Japan to maintain its safety and regional stability.

According to the Defense Ministry, around 25,000 nonmilitary workers are employed at U.S. military installations in Japan, and based on the special accord Japan has agreed to cover the personnel costs of 23,055 of them.

Of the 25,000, around 6,000 are employed at restaurants, shops and other welfare and recreation-related facilities, the ministry said.

According to a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Defense, Japan contributed direct financial support worth $3.23 billion and indirect support worth $1.18 billion in fiscal 2002, which offset as much as 74.5 percent of the total costs for the U.S. to station its forces in Japan.

Tokyo, U.S. lobbied

A group of disparate Okinawan organizations including city and town mayors visited Tokyo on Monday to convey their grievances over the bilateral accord governing the handling of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have committed crimes in Japan.

The groups comprising some 70 people called for a drastic revision of the Status of Forces Agreement at the U.S. Embassy and the prime minister’s office.