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Marines to undergo random tests for alcohol consumption

December 20, 2012 | 10:03 am

Starting next month, Marines at Camp Pendleton and other bases will be subject to random Breathalyzer tests twice a year under what is billed as the toughest anti-drinking policy in the U.S. military.

An order issued last week by Lt. Gen. R.E. Milstead Jr., deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, calls for any Marine or sailor who tests positive at .01% or higher to be referred for counseling. Any Marine or sailor who tests .04% or higher will be referred to medical personnel to determine their fitness for duty.

Milstead's order notes that while the new order "is primarily for deterrence and education," nothing precludes commanders from handing out punishment. Each unit will have a staff non-commissioned officer to act as the alcohol screening program coordinator.

In California, a driver with .08% blood alcohol is considered drunk, and his or her driver's license is immediately suspended. A single drink can lead to a positive test of .01%.

In September, a study by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, sponsored by the Department of Defense, found that binge drinking among military personnel in all branches has increased. In 1998, 35% of personnel admitted to binge drinking in the previous year. In 2008, the last year for which statistics were available, that figure had risen to 47%.

Noting that "alcohol has long been part of military culture," the study's authors, including professors from USC and UC San Francisco, called for better leadership from the top of the chain of command in curbing excess drinking. Among the recommendations was "routine screening for excessive alcohol consumption."

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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

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