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Beer in the barracks? Maybe

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment enjoy a frosty brew Super Bowl Sunday. All soldiers were allowed to drink two beers during dinner. DVIDS photo

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This past June, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston asked for input in order to improve the Army's culture, including a look at the possibility of allowing soldiers to drink alcohol in the barracks.

"The intent, first right off the bat, was (to) ask ourselves ‘do we have the right culture that we want in the Army for alcohol?'" Grinston told Task & Purpose. "I think that was a fair question, and I think the majority of individuals said ‘yes, we need to take this on and do something about it.'"

The idea was discussed by Army sergeants major at a recent conference held in El Paso, Texas. The focus of the meeting as to look at new ways to confront old problems.

Enforcement of drinking regulations has been left up to individual commands; however, according to enlisted leaders these limitations do not appear to prevent excessive drinking or foster a culture of responsible drinking.

A study published this year by Sage Journals and shared by the Rand Corporation found that "binge and heavy drinking represents a serious threat to force readiness." 

But it also pointed out that when the subject of alcohol is approached with a sense of "concerned communication," there appears to be a willingness for discussions about alcohol and as a result "less overall alcohol use and heavy episodic drinking."

During the conference, Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Quitugua Jr. of the Army Chemical Corps at Fort Leavenworth said that he thinks giving soldiers more responsibility in the barracks will allow them to develop better drinking habits.

"Soldiers are saying, ‘Because I know I can only keep this amount of alcohol in my barracks, when I'm at the bar I will drink as much as I can as fast as I can because I can't continue to drink at my barracks because you just don't want me to have enough in there,'" Quitugua explained.

He also pointed out there is a double standard of allowing soldiers who live off-post to have alcohol in their homes.

"The only change is somebody has a dependent, which allows them to live off-post, which others don't," he added.

But a note of caution was sounded. Among the services, soldiers had the highest number of hospitalizations for alcohol-related issues between 2009 and 2018 according to a 2020 Army release.

"The truth is that many soldiers don't follow those rules which results in risky drinking patterns and occasions," said Dr. Cheryl Owen, the regional manager for Substance Use Disorders Clinical Care at Regional Health Command Europe.

"A subset of those folks won't be able to or can't follow those rules even if they try. They are the ones who, despite their best intentions, just can't drink responsibly and the best choice for them is to not drink."  

One unit within the Army Forces Command will soon be selected as a test site to determine if soldiers should be allowed to have alcohol in the barracks.

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