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In Our Opinion — April 2012

Acting Responsibly

The term “acting responsibly” came to the forefront recently as Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the establishment of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine Initiative.

This initiative, while comprehensive in nature, highlights and consolidates programs, objectives and policies covering a broad spectrum of health and wellness issues in order to maximize the personal readiness of sailors, Marines and their families.

A renewed focus on the responsible use of alcohol was one of several programs featured as part of the initiative's readiness component.

Alcohol monitoring will take on a life of its own as breathalyzer tests will now be required when sailors and Marines stationed on board ships, submarines and at squadrons report for duty each day, as well as random testing elsewhere.

The idea behind the administering of breathalyzer tests is to reduce the occurrence of alcohol-related incidents — such as domestic violence, sexual assault, driving under the influence (DUI) — that could end military careers or even have fatal consequences (for example, vehicle accidents or suicide).

Mabus noted that the initiative does not ban sailors and Marines of legal age from drinking, but they should act responsibly when consuming alcoholic beverages to prevent potentially dangerous situations from occurring, such as drinking excessively, which could lead to violent behavior toward others, or get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Not only are they putting their own lives in jeopardy, they are putting the lives of others at risk as well.

Club managers, servers/bartenders, and food and beverage managers in all branches have been trained for years to recognize and prevent intoxication and handle difficult situations, especially when patrons have had one too many and may pose a danger to themselves or others. By monitoring potentially dangerous situations in their facilities, they act in a responsible and professional manner so that our forces remain fit, physically and mentally, to fight in order to defend our country.

The idea of closely monitoring alcohol usage also extends to at least two other areas that the initiative focuses on in order to build and maintain the resiliency of the force.

In the area of safety, the focus will be on safe driving with stricter DUI standards. This goes without saying as sailors and Marines should know when they are not fit to drive a vehicle if they have had too much to drink. If stopped and their blood alcohol levels are above the legal limit in the state or country where they are stationed, they might be penalized to the fullest extent of the law.

Alcohol monitoring also extends into the area of physical fitness, as increased alcohol usage will have a negative impact on one's physical and mental well-being. This includes an increased difficulty to build muscle and an increase in body weight; and psychologically, those who may be facing difficult days — like service members under constant stress — could drink more to feel better, which may lead to further problems.

The reason for this increased focus on alcohol usage, and the stringent regulations being implemented in the Navy and Marine Corps, as Mabus pointed out, is not to punish, but to help sailors and Marines make responsible choices “before something happens that can;t be undone.” In addition, if sailors and Marines show signs of increased alcohol usage, commanders could step in and get them the help they need before things spiral out of control.

Although this alcohol monitoring program is a Navy- and Marine Corps-specific initiative, club and food and beverage personnel in the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard must also do their part to ensure the physical and mental readiness of their patrons. Acting responsibly works both ways.