- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The U.S. Navy instituted an indefinite ban on alcohol consumption and non-essential travel for sailors stationed in Japan on Monday after a petty officer was arrested in Okinawa over the weekend on suspicion of drunken driving.

Two people were injured after 21-year-old Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia allegedly drove her vehicle while intoxicated into oncoming traffic early Sunday on an Okinawa freeway, Japan Times reported.

On the heels of a handful of other mishaps that have further tainted the American military’s presence in Japan as of late, Navy officials said Monday that all 18,600 sailors stationed in Japan are indefinitely prohibited from drinking alcohol or leaving their base except for in exigent circumstances.

“Effective immediately, sailors are prohibited from drinking alcohol, on and off base. Additionally, all off-base liberty will be curtailed,” the 7th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Japan said in a statement Monday.

“These measures are not taken lightly,” Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Japan, said in a press release. “For decades we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship and the U.S. Japan alliance as a whole.”

The ban on drinking alcohol will stay in place until commanders “are comfortable that all personnel understand the impact of responsible behavior on the U.S.-Japan Alliance and the United States’ ability to provide security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” the Navy said.

“There is no timetable in place,” said Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Japan. “The alcohol restriction will remain in effect until the commander of the 7th Fleet and the commander of Naval Forces Japan determine that all personnel have fully embraced their responsibilities of being a U.S. ambassador at all times.”

“We have recognized a problem, we’re owning it, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that every one of our sailors understands how important our behavior is to the alliance and to our relationship to the people of Japan,” Cmdr. Flanders said, Japan Times reported.

The petty officer arrested early Sunday had a blood-alcohol level six times the country’s legal limit when she allegedly struck two other cars head on, according to Japan’s Kyodo News service. That incident occurred in the midst of a 30-day period of mourning in which sailors were told they couldn’t drink off-base after an American civilian was accused of murdering a 20-year-old local woman in Okinawa last month.

USA Today reported a mass rally is expected to be held June 19 by protesters opposed to the U.S. Navy’s ongoing presence in Okinawa, the likes of which have been periodically marred by scandal dating back to 1995 when three American servicemen were convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl.

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