NORFOLK, Va. — According to the Wall Street Journal the Navy and Marines said Monday they plan to introduce random breath tests of personnel on duty as part of a broader health-and-safety push, a move officials concede will be a tough sell with war weary troops after a decade of war.
The U.S. military already randomly tests members of all branches for illegal drug use.
But resorting to breath tests—which detect blood alcohol levels from a breath sample—represents a first for military personnel. Alcohol abuse in the military is rampant, especially among officers and non commissioned officers (NCO).
Alcohol is also a problem for lower enlisted ranks as well.
According to the Wall Street Journal “Some” (not all) Navy crew members, for instance, will have to take a breath test when reporting aboard a ship for duty. The navy was quick to say however that service members who test positive for alcohol and are drunk - won't be allowed to go on duty, but won't be penalized with a permanent record of the result. Which is very odd policy. Military service personnel should be responsible enough to report to duty assignments clean and sober. Unofficially Pentagon officials know that many soldiers have drinking problems which cross the line and reflect itself in low standards.
“The problem is drinking alcohol and getting plastered drunk is socially acceptable in the military. It is treated as an institution on bases around the country”, says Harry Harrison of Charlotte, N.C. Harrison was stationed at Ft. Bragg and told of us stores of officers and NCO at the “Dragon Club” on base getting falling down drunk and stumbling into their vehicles. “It should be noted that the Army and Air Force don’t have such standards as the Navy and Marine Corp regarding random alcohol testing on duty – they know they would loss to many people that way.
Alcohol- and drug-related charges were involved in more than a third of all Army criminal prosecutions of soldiers in the two war zones — 240 of the 665 cases resulting in convictions, according to records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act request (see article: For U.S. Troops at War, Liquor Is Spur to Crime, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/world/
Case in point:
“In May 2004, Specialist Justin J. Lillis got drunk on what he called “hajji juice,” a clear Iraqi moonshine smuggled onto an Army base in Balad, Iraq, by civilian contractors, and began taking potshots with his M-16 service rifle.
“He shot up some contractor’s rental car,” said Phil Cave, a lawyer for Specialist Lillis, 24. “He hopped in a Humvee, drove around and shot up some more things. He shot into a housing area” and at soldiers guarding the base entrance.
Six months later, at an Army base near Baghdad, after a night of drinking an illegal stash of whiskey and gin, Specialist Chris Rolan of the Third Brigade, Third Infantry Division, pulled his 9mm service pistol on another soldier and shot him dead.”
THE NAVY PILOT BREATH TEST PROGRAM
The Navy's submarine fleet in the Pacific has already experimented with a pilot breath-test program that began in 2009. Officials say that program led to a 45% decrease in alcohol-related incidents, such as arrests for driving under the influence.
MARINE CORP – NO PILOT PROGRAM YET, BUT BEGINNING IN APRIL?
The Marines haven't launched a pilot program but will begin breath testing in April. Enlisted personnel feel that its none of the military’s business if they get drunk on alcohol. “Off duty I should be allowed to get drunk if I want”, says one Marine Corp private who I asked about the policy recently in Charlotte, N.C. “If I am old enough to die in combat I should be allowed to get drink on base”, he said. The Marine agreed that being drunk on duty is unacceptable but admitted going to formation on early Monday morning after a weekend drinking and being “buzzed” in his words. If he was tested at that time he would surely fail the alcohol breath test, even admitting to drinking a beer on the way to formation less than 30 minutes before formation and muster for PT (Physical training).
Some disagree with the Navy and Marine Corp policy not to punish soldiers and sailors who go to duty stations drunk or intoxicated on beer, alcohol or wine. One Navy officer explained it in terms of an “investment” decision. “We have a lot of time, money and effort invested in that soldier, sailor. We can’t afford to lose him or her for the offense of being a drunk on duty”, he said. This officer declined to be named in this report out of fear that if his superiors found out he was talking with journalists he might get into trouble. “I’m supposed to refer you to the Navy Public Relations department and not answer questions which might reflect badly or reveal the true extent of the problem”, he laughed.
Privately he admitted that drinking alcohol, especially beer is a mega huge problem among his fellow officers and sailors…”Anywhere you have a military or naval base you have bars so the personnel can drink and get a drunk on”, he added.
We contacted the Army and Air Force for comment on the random alcohol testing – neither service responded for comment.