KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Unlike in Japan, there have been no recent high-profile crimes in Germany involving drunken military members that have embarrassed the U.S. military and strained political ties.
Nevertheless, this month, some alcohol sales have been curtailed in the Kaiserslautern Military Community. Why?
With 409 alcohol-related incidents (ARIs) reported in the KMC in 2011, Brig. Gen. Charles K. Hyde, the 86th Airlift Wing commander at Ramstein Air Base, started a campaign in January aimed at diminishing those numbers:
“No ARIs … no excuses … drink responsibly,” reads the slogan on posters hung on base and on a special website encouraging airmen to focus on the mission, look after each other and take ownership of their actions.
Not all airmen heeded the message: Alcohol-related incidents in the KMC are poised to equal or exceed last year’s total, with 401 reported through November; of those, just under half are driving-related, base officials said.
The tighter alcohol sales policy was “a natural extension” of the campaign, Hyde said in an interview Tuesday.
But the ban on sales between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., which was imposed on two 24-hour on-base shoppettes earlier this month, is also tied to a larger effort across the Air Force. Led by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III, it is aimed at eliminating sexual assault and other bad behavior from Air Force ranks.
Welsh’s focus is to create an environment in the Air Force “that promotes dignity, trust and respect and that puts a culture of professionalism and discipline back in the forefront,” Hyde said.
The wing’s crusade to combat alcohol-related incidents is “very congruent” with the chief of staff’s goals, Hyde said.
“I think it was the right time to do this,” he said of the alcohol-sales restriction.
The policy was implemented shortly after Hyde returned from a unique wing commanders’ conference. In late November, Welsh met with more than 140 wing commanders across the Air Force “to underscore, face-to-face, his expectations of them as leaders and to discuss Air Force issues,” according to an Air Force news release.
While he’s attended many wing commanders’ conferences, Hyde said those are usually conducted “at the major command or at some level below the chief of staff.
“It was a unique opportunity to meet with the senior leaders in our Air Force,” Hyde said. “The cohesiveness of opinion that these issues need to be tackled and we are the ones to lead this … was somewhat special to be a part of.”
One of those issues is sexual assault, a problem that has plagued each of the military’s services, but recent focus has been on the Air Force In the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal involving some 25 instructors and dozens of female recruits in its basic training program.
Welsh, who pledged on assuming the air force top job to make eliminating sexual assault a priority, charged his wing commanders with fixing the issue, according to the Air Force news release.
Welsh was quoted as saying that while the “environment inside our Air Force is changing,” it has not changed enough. “And so you and I are going to change it – immediately and definitively. We must ensure that every member of our Air Force is treated with respect and feels like a critically important part of the team.”
Halting packaged alcohol sales between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. may reduce the impulse buys that lead to bad behavior, Hyde said.
The adage “Nothing good happens after midnight” holds true for the KMC, Hyde said. Statistics compiled by security forces show that about 60 percent of alcohol-related incidents occur after midnight, including physical and verbal altercations, domestic disputes and sexual assaults, Hyde said.
Restricting certain alcohol sales in the early morning hours may prevent an airman who’s already impaired from making the wrong choice, he said.
“When people plan to get together and celebrate with family and friends and plan the purchase of alcohol, those are usually not the events where we see a lot of problems,” Hyde said.
The policy does not apply to the on-base clubs, where trained staff aren’t allowed to serve alcohol to anyone who’s visibly intoxicated, base officials said.
Hyde will review the ban after it’s been in effect for 90 days.