GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The 24-hour convenience store on this remote Army base has become the latest to prohibit early-morning alcohol sales, an option being mulled by other installations in the face of persistent alcohol-related incidents, officials say.
On Feb. 3, the Grafenwöhr Shoppette, one of two dozen 24-hour on-post convenience stores run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service in Europe, stopped selling beer, wine and spirits between 2 and 7 a.m., following a request from garrison commander Col. James Saenz.
“Let’s just say that nothing really good happens between 2 and 7 in the morning, and if somebody needs a drink that badly, then they need to plan ahead and purchase it before 2 o’clock in the morning,” garrison spokesman Mike Blass said.
The decision by AAFES follows the 90-day suspension of early-morning alcohol sales in the Kaiserslautern Military Community in December. Spangdahlem Air Base, which prohibited early alcohol sales at two shops in 2009.
Commanders requested the changes at both Kaiserslautern and Grafenwöhr, AAFES spokesman Lt. Col. Al Hing said. Other officials have shown interest in the concept, he said.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of people watching the situation with Spangdahlem, KMC and Grafenwöhr,” Hing said.
In Stuttgart, officials also are considering limits on when alcohol can be purchased at local shoppettes, but specific proposals are still under review, according to Mark Howell, garrison spokesman in Stuttgart.
With two combat brigades — one of which is inactivating — among its tenant units, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr is home to thousands of soldiers, many of whom have made multiple combat trips downrange. U.S. Army Europe’s training arm, the Joint Multinational Training Command, is also headquartered in Grafenwöhr, bringing outside American and multinational troops to the area.
The shoppette, on the main post near the town of Grafenwöhr, is the only 24-hour store within the garrison and its sub-communities of Rose Barracks, Hohenfels and Garmisch. Each community is isolated, leaving few alternatives for packaged alcohol purchases late at night.
The Army Substance Abuse Program FOR THE Grafenwöhr community counted 418 alcohol-related incidents, not including driving under the influence, in fiscal 2012 — up from 366 in the prior fiscal year. DUIs rose over the same time period, to 196 from 173.
Pennie Stallworth, director of ASAP in Grafenwöhr, was a member of a working committee that recommended the limit on alcohol sales. Stallworth said the group focused on the number of alcohol-related incidents that occur in the early morning hours, when drinkers with high tolerance continue to consume.
“When I look at the blotters, there are a lot more numbers like .10 [blood-alcohol concentration] up toward .24, which means these people felt they could drive and probably had a high tolerance because they’ve been doing this for a while,” she said.
Most states in the U.S. set the legal limit of blood-alcohol concentration for drivers at .08, although limits are lower in Germany.
Hing said AAFES would approve similar prohibitions requested by any senior commander at an installation. The lost business in the early morning hours amounts to less than 10 percent of the day’s take, he estimated.
The recent restrictions come as U.S. commanders in Japan have imposed a host of restrictions — from curfews to mandatory buddy systems — in an attempt to curtail alcohol-fueled military misconduct. In Germany, no recent incidents of misconduct involving alcohol have rocked relations with the host nation as they have in Japan. Yet Army and Air Force officials in Europe have targeted binge drinking.
In Kaiserslautern, 86th Airlift Wing commander Brig. Gen. Charles K. Hyde wrote to AAFES’ regional headquarters last year that his request for curbed alcohol sales was in line with Air Force efforts to “instill a culture of professionalism” among airmen.
Stallworth said the Grafenwöhr working group, part of a quarterly health council that meets within the garrison, extends from former USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling’s push for better alcohol-awareness programming.
A campaign in April will emphasize resources available in the area, she said. Stallworth and Blass emphasize they aren’t trying to take alcohol away from soldiers but want to curb drinking that rises to substance abuse.
“Usually the individuals who are purchasing alcohol at that time, it’s not so they can have a good time,” Stallworth said.
Correction: The original story incorrectly stated only two installations other than Grafenwöhr restricted alcohol sales. At least three other installations have sales restrictions, including Schweinfurt, which began a new policy on Feb. 18.