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Oh my, Semper Fi is going kinda dry!

December 20, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Water is safe for them, but under a new order aimed at combating alcohol abuse, Marines will undergo Breathalyzer tests twice a year.
Water is safe for them, but under a new order aimed at combating alcohol abuse,… (Bob Grieser / Los Angeles…)

Forget the demise of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Something even bigger is, er, brewing in our armed forces, or at least in the Marine Corps.

Semper fi is going kinda dry.

As my colleague Tony Perry reported Thursday:

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.

Which, as you probably know if you like a cocktail or two with dinner, is a tougher standard than in the civilian world.  In California, for example, a driver with .08% blood alcohol is considered drunk, and if you’re pulled over, your driver's license is immediately suspended. Just one drink can lead to a test result of .01%.

So what in the name of Carrie Nation is going on? Will America’s toughest fighting men (and women) be reduced to ordering lemonade and iced tea?

Apparently, it’s all about combating binge drinking:

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%.

Now, as a teetotaler, I applaud any measure to cut down on alcohol abuse. But let me also say that I’ve known a few Marines in my time. A number are Vietnam vets. And none strike me as the type who would welcome a Breathalyzer test, twice a year or not.

Still, these aren’t your grandpa’s Marines. Heck, they’re not even your dad’s Marines.

Recently, a female Marine joined a lawsuit challenging a Defense Department policy that excludes women from most direct ground combat positions. The Times’ editorial board backed the plaintiffs, arguing that because women are already serving in positions that put them in harm’s way in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s time policy caught up with reality.

So it's likely that sometime soon, female Marines will be joining their male colleagues on the front lines.

And afterward, I guess, they'll all knock back a few cold, uh, root beers.

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