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News > Commentary - Policy changes needed to reduce alcohol-related incidents
Policy changes needed to reduce alcohol-related incidents

Posted 1/31/2013   Updated 1/31/2013 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett
U.S. Army Alaska Commanding General

1/31/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The opportunity to command is both a blessing and an immense responsibility. I have been challenged by every command ever entrusted to me. A commander's responsibilities include preparing their unit to accomplish any assigned mission, ensuring the needs of Soldiers and families are being met, and maintaining good order and discipline in their formation.

Arctic Warriors, we have a problem with good order and discipline in our barracks, and it's our responsibility to fix it. I was notified on Christmas morning there had been a death in the barracks. Finding out one of your Soldiers died is never easy, but this death weighs particularly heavily on me.

The incident is still under investigation, but there are two major contributors that are not in question. There was a privately owned firearm in the barracks, which is in violation of USARAK policy, and alcohol was involved.

This occurrence, though the most severe, isn't the only alcohol-related incident we've had since I took command.

When I receive a report of an incident in the barracks, one of my first questions is whether or not alcohol was involved. Many times, the answer is yes. I don't believe alcohol is to blame for every case of indiscipline that occurs in the barracks, but alcohol is often a major contributing factor.

Over the last few months, I have had discussions with subordinate commanders about how we can reduce the number of disciplinary issues and alcohol-related incidents. Based on these conversations and my own experiences as a brigade commander here during my previous assignment to Alaska, I have decided our command requires a cultural shift away from behaviors and situations that commonly result in alcohol-related incidents.

Changing the culture of an organization is never easy and is an endeavor that should not be entered into lightly. I have directed a few changes to be implemented this month and will reassess our progress regularly to make sure we are on the right track. For these policies to succeed, every leader from the team level up must be fully engaged by complying with and enforcing the new standard.

The most significant change was the hardest to decide upon, but I believe it will ultimately do the most good towards reducing the number of alcohol-related incidents in the barracks. Effective February 15, all alcohol is banned from the barracks and the common areas around them. That means there will be no drinking in or near the barracks, no exceptions.

Though this may not be a popular policy, I expect every Soldier to comply with it and every leader to enforce it. I am distributing a separate policy letter with the details of this change to your commanders.

I also want to ensure leadership is present in the barracks. We are going to initiate a standardized staff duty officer program across USARAK.

Each day, we will have a field grade officer represent the command and conduct a variety of spot checks, both at Fort Wainwright and JBER. This senior leader will support and monitor staff duty officers across the subordinate commands.

Every echelon of command will have an arctic tough leader checking the barracks, unit areas and motor pools at night and on the weekend to ensure our equipment is secure and our Soldiers are safe.

Responsibility for the actions of our Soldiers' behavior doesn't stop at the gate. We will also increase the use of NCO-led courtesy patrols. Each night, these courtesy patrols will report to the field grade officer of the day and will frequent hotspots in the local communities to increase leader presence and help maintain the discipline of our Soldiers. The courtesy patrols are simply Soldiers looking out for Soldiers - something we should all be doing.

I know there will be a lot of rumors and questions regarding these policy changes, and I hope reading this will help answer some of your concerns. None of these measures are intended to be punishments and I hope they aren't perceived as such. These actions will hopefully reverse some of the current trends.

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this great organization and know that together we can make this command the finest in our Army. Everywhere I go, I tell people I meet how amazing our Soldiers are and how proud I am of each of you. I ask that you continue to give your best to your fellow Soldiers and our Army every single day and I promise I will do the same.

Arctic Warrior! Arctic Tough!

2/2/2013 1:01:44 AM ET
As a barracks soldier myself I would like to say that this is a horrible idea. Why punish thousands for the actions of a few this policy is similar to putting a band aid on a bullet wound it may look good but the intitial issue is still there. By far this is the worst policy I have seen implemented. suicide can't be prevented by telling barracks soldiers they cant drink in their rooms. This new policy will destroy mine and any other barracks soldiers morale
Reid Graves, JBER
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