Soldiers and families may need to plan ahead when they buy alcohol at some on-post shops. (Ryan McVay / Getty Images)
Commanders at four major Army garrisons are restricting sales of liquor at post exchange stores or are considering it — Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Army Garrison-Hawaii — according to Army officials.
For nearly one-third of soldiers and their dependents, this means booze would not be as widely available at post exchanges operated by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
Current and former soldiers, and their dependents, have criticized the idea of liquor sale restrictions, saying the move will not discourage drinking but encourage drinking off-post, as well as drunken driving.
“I did [five] years active duty as [a military policeman, and] I don’t ever remember even hearing of, much less encountering a case where someone got wasted on post and got a DUI on post,” Michael Swiger, of Hammond, Ind., said in a Facebook post. “[Drunken drivers] are always coming back from off post.”
As of Sept. 1 at Fort Bliss, eight post exchanges will no longer sell hard liquor, and liquor will only be sold between noon and 10 p.m., according to one official on the post. The affected stores, which were selected because they sell gasoline, cater not only to active-duty service members but retirees and military dependents.
“It’s a two-pronged approach: Limit the hours and limit sales at stores that also sell gasoline,” the Fort Bliss official said. The official asked that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
“The number of people employed will decline and the amount of the dividend that goes to the morale, welfare and recreation fund will diminish,” he said. “There are second- and third-order effects.”
None of the restrictions pertains to beer and wine, the Fort Bliss official said.
A Fort Bliss spokesman declined to discuss the move and said Maj. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the commander of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss senior mission commander, was “still looking at tailoring hours and locations where hard alcohol is available.”
MacFarland took command of the post in May.
Restrictions in Hawaii were meant to spur responsible drinking, and send the message that “excessive drinking is not OK,” said Stefanie Gardin, external communication chief for Army Garrison-Hawaii. The garrison runs installations for 90,000 soldiers, civilians and family members stationed on the islands of Oahu and Hawaii.
As of July, post exchanges on Army installations in Hawaii no longer sell alcohol between midnight and 6 a.m.
“Buying alcohol at 3 or 4 a.m. is not likely responsible drinking behavior,” Gardin wrote in an email to Army Times. “Excessive drinking can contribute or lead to high-risk behaviors and serious incidents, such as sexual assaults and domestic violence, which are unacceptable.”
Alcohol was linked to 63 percent of rapes and aggravated sexual assaults reported between 2006 and 2011, according to Army data. From 2001 to 2011, alcohol’s link to domestic violence rose 54 percent, and its link to child abuse rose 40 percent.
Army Garrison-Hawaii is also employing unit and leader prevention training, expert counselors and confidential alcohol treatment and education, Gardin said.
“Alcohol abuse and excessive drinking impact soldiers’ preparedness, and we must change the mindset and behavior to better maintain our readiness, welfare and resiliency,” Gardin said. “Strong soldiers and strong families are not built on substance abuse.”
In February, Fort Bragg officials halted liquor sales at three of its AAFES shops. Otherwise, the post exchanges already stopped selling alcohol at 2 a.m., mirroring state laws that apply to off-post establishments.
The Fort Bragg stores that halted liquor sales were “close to troop concentrations, especially of junior soldiers,” post spokesman Ben Abel told Army Times. “That was the reason for the request.”
Fort Hood is due to cut liquor sales at certain stores Aug. 26, according to one official. However, post spokesman Chris Haug said Aug. 23 that post leaders were still deciding whether to enact restrictions.
Judd Anstey, a spokesman at AAFES headquarters in Dallas, declined to discuss the restrictions in detail and deferred comment to the garrison commands.
“[AAFES] regularly works with installation commanders to implement decisions based on needs, mission readiness and community requirements (including recommended hours of operation),” Anstey said in an email. “While there is not an organizational-wide effort to adjust merchandising or hours of operation, the Exchange continues to work with installation leadership to address local needs and requirements.”
Not all soldiers are against restricting on-post alcohol sales.
“Kinda hard to have a zero-tolerance policy, make booze that accessible, and then punish the johnnies when they get drunk and act like drunk joes,” Eron Lindsey, a reservist from Eldora, Iowa, said in a Facebook post.
Former soldier Rafael Grajales Garrett said that while on active duty, commanders should discourage drinking in any lawful way they can because he has seen it lead to “bad things.”
“I am talking from fatal accidents to incidents having to do with rape,” he said in a Facebook post. “Is alcohol the exclusive cause for these events? No. But alcohol does make it a hell of a lot easier for these things to happen.”
But many soldiers disagreed, and several said such restrictions had driven them out of the Army.
“I’m so ... glad I got out when I did,” Cole LikesPie, of Hamilton, Mont., said in a Facebook post. “The Army is turning into a nanny state. Instead of focusing on discipline and personal responsibility they act like a [family readiness group] when it comes to making regulations.”