If you are drinking, know the laws of Japan
KADENA AIR BASE - Being stationed in a foreign country can expose service members to new and unfamiliar traditions, customs and values.
With a vast range of cultural differences to acclimate to comes additional foreign laws that should not be overlooked, particularly laws that are alcohol related.
"It's an important piece in our mission here to have good relationships with the local community," said Capt. Scott Kirk, 18th Wing Judge Advocacy litigation chief. "If people are not respecting the local laws and are being drunk and disorderly in public, it reflects poorly on our Airmen, degrades our mission and, ultimately, is something people are going to regret in the morning when they find out what they did and what the consequences will be."
Japanese drinking laws are known to be stricter than those in the U.S. In Japan, driving with a blood alcohol content level of .03 percent, on or off base, will result in an automatic DUI offense, which is often the result of consuming only one drink.
If a driver is pulled over by the Japanese Police while operating a motor vehicle and signs of intoxication are observed or an odor of an alcoholic beverage is emitting from the driver, that individual and all passengers can be charged with alcohol-related offenses under Japanese law.
No matter the outcome of a DUI, the penalty is always heavy. Japanese authorities can detain offenders for days, months or even years depending on the violation. Time in captivity does not include military pay.
"We don't count time-in-prison as a good time served," said Kirk. "Our command takes the Japanese law very seriously here and we are expected to obey it. That's why some of the base instructions match theirs."
Occasionally, an intoxicated driver will attempt to enter base when least expected, which is why 18th Security Forces Squadron Airmen conduct random DUI checkpoints and are trained to detected and apprehend drunk drivers 24/7.
"Most of the time, when we catch somebody drinking and driving, it's not the first time they have done it," said Senior Airman Tyler Brock, 18th SFS response force leader. "It may be the first time they have been caught but not the first time they decided to drink and drive."
Any amount of impairment while driving carries risk regardless of the local BAC limit. If a driver is involved in an accident, any trace of alcohol can be used as evidence against the driver as negligence, even when testing a low BAC level, such as .01 or .02 percent.
Nearly all DUI cases are preventable, especially when a solid plan for transportation is in place. Taxi services are ample in most districts of Okinawa, and Airman Against Drunk Driving, a volunteer service that offers free transportation to stranded DOD ID card holders, is just a phone call away.
"If you've been drinking, please don't drive," said Kirk. "Nobody's squadron wants to be subject to a full recall because you made a bad choice. If nothing else, I'm pretty confident that your leadership would prefer to pick you up and give you a ride to avoid an incident."
Sometimes having a ride home or a place to sleep for the night is not enough to prevent an alcohol-related mishap. It's important to make sure there is enough time to metabolize the amount of alcohol consumed.
"We've had cases where people drank a large amount of alcohol late at night and tried to sleep it off for three or four hours," said Kirk. "When they tried to drive into work in the morning, they get stopped by security forces because they're still well over the .03 BAC limit."
According to the Air Force Medical Service, an average sized person requires one-and-a-half hours to metabolize each standard drink consumed.
Risk assessment training is provided to Kadena Airmen on an annual basis. It is designed to promote sound reasoning and smart decisions in all situations.
By applying risk-management principles and respecting the hosting nation's laws, costly mishaps can be avoided, careers can continue and lives can be saved.
"Bottom line - can you have fun? Can you drink? The answer is absolutely," said Kirk. "The rules are in place to keep everybody safe and to prevent international incidents from happening. Have a wingman, have a plan, have a backup plan, and have enough cash for the taxi."
If a plan falls through and you are stranded off base without a ride, don't hesitate to contact your leadership or call AADD at (098) 961-2233 or DSN 634-AADD.