GSDF sergeant shoplifts to avoid Iraq mission?

CHIBA (Kyodo) A Ground Self-Defense Force sergeant caught shoplifting in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, earlier this month has told investigators he did it because he “did not want to be deployed to Iraq,” officials said Tuesday.

The 38-year-old sergeant first class belongs to the GSDF 1st Airborne Brigade based in Funabashi, Chiba.

About 170 members of the brigade were called up for the latest rotation to Samawah in southern Iraq, starting in late January, and he was on the reserve list.

The GSDF gave the sergeant a 40-day suspension from duties that began Tuesday.

Officials of the brigade said security guards at a do-it-yourself retailer caught the sergeant on Feb. 1 stealing about 10,000 yen worth of products. While recording it as a minor offense, police did not arrest him and handed him over to the brigade.

The Defense Agency said when sending troops to Iraq, it asks for the consent of the service members and their families, and would not forcibly deploy anyone who did not agree to be sent.

The 1st Airborne Brigade is the Self-Defense Forces’ only paratroop unit. The Iraq dispatch is the brigade’s first overseas deployment.

Japan has been deploying GSDF troops to Iraq since early 2004 and extended their mission last December for a third year. About 600 GSDF members are in Iraq at any given time and the troops are rotated out from various divisions.