Military Gets Tough on Tippling

“Sir, NO sir!”

This will be the expected answer for inquisitive drill sergeants and chiefs in barracks (and on boats) at armed forces installations around the world as the U.S. military looks to tighten controls on alcohol consumption among the ranks.

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus kicked off a new program dubbed the 21st Century Sailor and Marine Initiative on the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan March 5, 2012, as 700 sailors and Marines looked on.

The “wellness initiative,” which addresses alcohol, drug and tobacco use as well as nutrition issues and sexual assault training, comes in the wake of a recent high-profile lawsuit brought against the U.S. military by eight former female members who allege they were raped, assaulted or harassed during their period of service and suffered retaliation when attempting to report the abuse.

The lawsuit is specifically directed at the Navy and Marine Corps branches because the former military members served in those organizations, but plaintiff lawyer Susan Burke has noted lawsuits targeted toward other branches are brewing. Although no connection has been drawn, that the initiative has its roots in these branches as opposed to being service-wide is telling.

The nation’s soldiers and sailors have long had a reputation for enjoying alcoholic drinks from time to time, and it should come as no surprise to many if this new initiative causes a rift in the ranks. Military members who have taken the oath to protect and defend are governed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which already imposes stiffer penalties on those who drink irresponsibly.

This new initiative promises to up the ante on what is arguably already a heightened standard for the world’s finest warriors. The most sweeping mandate of the program targeted at alcohol use is the start of mandatory Breathalyzer tests at duty stations and random testing for others who may not be on duty.

Navy leadership insists the testing is not punitive or legally admissible as evidence, and will be used only to identify individuals who need training in the importance of responsible drinking as a way to strengthen the fighting force. Even so, the installation of alcohol screening equipment onboard the U.S. Navy’s ships this year is sure to have an impact on crews.

No one can disagree with the need for “good order and discipline” among service members, especially while on duty, but there is also no gainsaying the stress of the job. Senior leaders may do well to remember that the harder something is squeezed, the harder it is to hang onto it, especially when it’s a sailor who’s had a hard day and just wants a few schooners of grog.


Legal Stuff: Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid : ). For more info, check out our site:

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