European edition, Sunday, July 15, 2007

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Data released by the Joint Multinational Training Command shows a jump in the number of Americans apprehended drinking and driving in Grafenwöhr and Vilseck.

On Friday, JMTC released data requested by Stars and Stripes in May that shows the incidents of DUI (driving with blood alcohol above .08) and DWI (driving with blood alcohol between 0.05 and 0.08) recorded by U.S. military police and German police in and around U.S. bases at Grafenwöhr and Vilseck this year.

The data shows 130 drinking-and-driving cases — 73 DUI and 57 DWI — involving U.S. soldiers and civilians in the Grafenwöhr/Vilseck footprint during the year up to July 1. That compares to 114 cases — 64 DUI and 54 DWI — during the same time in 2003, the last time the garrison’s population was as high as it is now.

Col. Tim Touzinsky, the JMTC chief of staff, said that so far this year there has not been a drunken driving death in the garrison. But he said the increase in arrests, which corresponds with the arrival of the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment last year, is a problem that JMTC takes seriously.

Bob McGaffin, the USAG Grafenwöhr safety specialist for privately owned vehicles, outlined a range of programs the Army uses to tackle drinking and driving and vehicle safety.

Among them:

n Briefings about the dangers of drinking and driving during a weeklong training for arriving soldiers at the garrison’s Indoctrination Training Center.

n Trips, an online risk assessment tool that records a soldier’s destination, travel companions and plans any time a soldier goes more than 75 miles from his or her garrison.

nRisk assessments for soldiers staying close to home during long weekends.

nThe Army Traffic Safety program for soldiers 25 and under — a class that includes information about drinking and driving and that has been taught weekly at Vilseck since May.

n A POV “toolbox” with suggestions and controls for leaders trying to reduce high rates of DUI in their units.

n Preliminary loss reports by local safety offices that reveal trends in certain types of accidents.

n“McKiernan Sends” safety messages by Gen. David McKiernan, the USAREUR commander.

McGaffin said soldiers preparing to deploy or returning from deployment are at particular risk.

“It is a mental condition. Releasing energy after coming back from downrange. The feeling of invincibility that goes with it. He’s survived 15 months of hell and been shot at and has made it,” he said.

Acting JMTC Command Sgt. Maj. Troy Nattress emphasized the importance of counseling in which immediate superiors sit down with soldiers to help them with issues.

“Your leadership can stand in front of 100 to 200 soldiers and say don’t drink and drive. Soldiers hear it all the time, but when you as their squad leader or team leader ask the soldiers what they are doing and say ‘Call me if you are in a bar and have had too much to drink,’ they know you care. The person most soldiers don’t want to let down is their squad leader,” he said.

Nattress said many staff duty funds now have money set aside to pay for taxi rides for soldiers who are stuck in town with no cash. Some units issue soldiers cards that are accepted by local taxi companies as payment for a ride home.

The fact that young soldiers can get access to alcohol that they could not buy legally in the United States also contributes to drinking and driving, he said.

“They are coming from a culture where only the cool guys can get access to alcohol to one where you can go into a bar and order 12 shots and nobody is going to ask you for ID,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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