Military officials are wary of both troops and civilians trying to catch ’em all
by KEVIN KNODELL
Pokemon Go has invaded America. Since launching on July 6, the free augmented reality game has prompted millions of users to explore places they ordinarily wouldn’t.
That includes U.S. military installations. On July 11, the Public Affairs Office at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state put out an announcement calling for users to be safe and courteous while using the app on military bases.
“Since Pokémon Go hit last week there have been reports of serious injuries and accidents of people driving or walking while looking at the app and chasing after the virtual Pokémon,” the announcement stated. “For budding Pokemon Trainers using Pokemon Go on JBLM … DO NOT chase Pokémon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings, or homes on base.”
Troops and civilians on military bases overseas are using the app to search for Pokemon worldwide. Stars and Stripes reported that during a server test in Japan someone caught a Charmander in the lobby of the 374th Medical Group hospital and a Squirtle in Stars and Stripes’ Yokota office.
The same day, the U.S. Marine Corps’ official Twitter account put out a photo of Pokemon on a firing range with the caption “Get off the firing line, Pikachu! That’s a safety violation!”
Pokemon Go has already become divisive — people either love it or hate it. For its supporters it’s a burst of nostalgia that recaptures the magic of the original game. It gets people out of the house, and it’s made people of all ages and backgrounds interact with people they ordinarily wouldn’t. It’s also brought in customers to small businesses such as cafes and restaurants.
But for its detractors it’s a nuisance that’s led people to randomly congregate in residential areas and wander aimlessly in pursuit of imaginary creatures. There’s also concerns that the app opens up its users to a plethora of cyber threats.
There have also been reports of crimes tied to the app and its users. Though most of these stories are fake, two players were robbed while hunting the digital creatures after midnight in the Dallas suburb of Garland. In another incident, Missouri police reported that criminals exploited the app to mug unsuspecting Pokemon trainers.
“Using the geolocation feature of the ‘Pokemon Go’ app the robbers were able to anticipate the location and level of seclusion of unwitting victims,” the O’Fallon Police Department warned in a statement.
But on the flip side, a pair of U.S. Marine veterans playing the game in Fullerton, California may have stopped a crime when they saw a suspicious man approaching a group of children. They chased the man and called the police, who discovered the man was an attempted murder suspect.
In another case, the app led 19-year-old Shayla Higgins of Wyoming to a dead body floating in the Big Wind River as she went searching for water Pokemon. “I probably would have never went down there if it weren’t for this game,” she told CNN.
“But in a way, I’m thankful. I feel like I helped find his body. He could have been there for days.”
Higgins admitted that when she first came upon the body, she didn’t even notice it. “I guess I was only paying attention to my phone and where I was walking,” Higgins said.
The announcement from JBLM seemed to chide users into paying attention to their surroundings. “Please BE CAREFUL in parking lots, crossing roads, etc. It’s a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing streets,” the base’s public affairs officials cautioned. “That Pokémon isn’t going anywhere fast.”
But another important military site has made an announcement about the app with far less humor. Some oblivious trainers have apparently been wandering Arlington National Cemetery — the final resting place of thousands of America’s war dead — looking for Pokemon.
“Out of respect for all those interred at Arlington National Cemetery, we require the highest level of decorum from our guests and visitors,” Arlington National Cemetery staff wrote in a Facebook post on July 12. “Playing games such as ‘Pokemon Go’ on these hallowed grounds would not be deemed appropriate. We request that visitors to ANC refrain from such activity.”
We do not consider playing "Pokemon Go" to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We ask all visitors to refrain from such activity.
Seriously, be safe this weekend. Don't use @PokemonGoApp in restricted areas, don't #PokemonGo and drive, don't drink and #PokemonGo.
This isn’t the first time a cultural phenomenon like Pokemon has gotten the attention — or concern — of military officials. In 1999, the National Security Agency banned Furbies from Fort Meade in Maryland. They worried that Furbies, which mimicked and the words of people around them, could store and repeat conversations about classified information.
A memo instructed NSA employees to “contact their Staff Security Office for guidance” if they came across a Furby.
But regardless of how military leaders feel about the latest craze, Pokemon Go seems to be making its way into all facets of life. After just a few days it’s set to surpass Twitter in active users.
It’s even made it to the war in Iraq. Louis Park, a former U.S. Marine currently volunteering with the Dwekh Nawsha militia in Northern Iraq posted a photo on Facebook of him encountering a Squirtle as his machine gun rested in the foreground.
“Just caught my first Pokémon on the Mosul front line by Teleskuf. Daesh come challenge me to a Pokémon battle,” Park wrote. “Mortars are for pussies.”