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Hagel instructs services to renew efforts fighting alcohol abuse

May. 9, 2014 - 10:04AM   |  
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Here’s a statistic that the Pentagon finds sobering: In two out of every three sexual assaults, alcohol is involved in some way.

That’s why the ongoing crackdown on sexual assault in the ranks is fueling a new anti-drinking campaign that will target the way alcohol is served and sold on military bases and in nearby communities.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the four services to find new ways to “improve safety and reduce the risks posed by alcohol” and prepare an “implementation plan” no later than Nov. 1, according to a May 1 memo.

The new effort will be more ambitious than the traditional campaigns aimed at individuals and encouraging them not to drink too much. Hagel wants to reshape the environment where troops do most of their drinking by “training alcohol providers, emphasizing responsible sales practices and engaging local community leadership and organizations to expand efforts off post,” according to the memo.

“Do you really need to sell someone five fifths of bourbon at 2 o’clock in the morning? Probably not,” Nate Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said in a recent briefing.

Hagel said he is especially concerned about “the risks that alcohol is used as a weapon against victims in a predatory way.”

Announced along with the latest array of sexual assault prevention efforts May 1, the move highlights the growing belief at the Pentagon that the problems of sex crimes and binge drinking are inextricably linked.

On base, the services can consider measures such as restricting the time window for selling alcohol, discouraging happy-hour drink specials that lead to binge drinking and requiring bar and restaurant staffers to undergo training in how to identify and intervene in situations that appear to pose a high risk for sexual assault.

Off base, installation commanders could work with local bar owners and liquor stores to expand similar efforts.

That could be as simple as asking bars to routinely offer food menus with drinks as a way to encourage patrons not to drink on empty stomachs, Galbreath said.

He pointed specifically to several places where the services should look to find “best practices” for reducing the risk for alcohol-related crimes. Galbreath cited the example of an Arizona statewide initiative, known as the Safer Bars Alliance, which suggests institutions such as a military installation could:

■ Offer to give local, privately owned bars some free on-base advertising in exchange for a promise that the bar will adhere to new guidelines.

■ Offer local bar and restaurant staffers training on how to identify signs of a situation that may pose a high risk for sexual assault.

■ Offer to fund safe-cab programs that help bartenders and bar owners get high-risk patrons out of the bar and home safely.

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