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Marines to undergo random Breathalyzer tests beginning in 2013

Starting Jan. 1, 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 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 fitness for duty.

Milstead notes that while the new order “is primarily for deterrence and education,” nothing precludes commanders from handing out punishment. Each unit will have an officer or 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, often called “sport drinking,” is increasing among military personnel in all branches.

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%. Twenty percent of personnel classify themselves as “heavy” drinkers.

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.”

Under the Marine order, monthly reports will be kept by each Marine unit about the results of the alcohol screening program and quarterly reports will be submitted to Marine Corps headquarters.

In the last year for which statistics are available, the Marine Corps reported 13 alcohol-related deaths among Marines in locations in this country and abroad. Included were Marines killed by vehicle and motorcycle crashes, one from falling 17 stories from a building, one from attempting to run across a freeway near Camp Pendleton, and several deaths that occurred during binge drinking when a Marine passed out and could not be revived.

Officials have also expressed alarm at the link between alcohol abuse and cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.

In June, a Marine Corps report indicated that there had been 333 reported cases of sexual assault corpswide in the previous year and that in most cases the victim, the aggressor or both had been drinking.

In a precede to that report, Commandant Gen. James Amos wrote that, “Despite our efforts, we have been ineffective at addressing and eliminating sexual assault within our ranks.”

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-- Tony Perry

 
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