Sgt. Joseph Chestnut of the 88th Military Police Detachment gives Maj. Randall Cephus a sobriety check with a passive alcohol device at checkpoint in Sagamihara Family Housing Area.

Sgt. Joseph Chestnut of the 88th Military Police Detachment gives Maj. Randall Cephus a sobriety check with a passive alcohol device at checkpoint in Sagamihara Family Housing Area. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

On a calm Friday night, drivers entering and leaving Sagamihara Family Housing Area stumbled into a trap — a sobriety checkpoint set up to test every passing motorist for alcohol.

The checkpoint, one of many the Army now conducts, netted two arrests — not a lot, but enough to show the community that someone is watching.

“As long as people realize this can happen at any point in time, then maybe they won’t roll the dice,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Rau, operations sergeant for the U.S. Army-Japan Provost Marshal’s Office.

After an increase of drunken-driving arrests in Japan and South Korea, Army leaders in both areas are getting creative — stripping soldiers of driving privileges in South Korea and launching a massive crackdown in Japan.

In Japan, leaders are unsure what caused a rise in alcohol-related driving offenses since October 2003, the start of the fiscal year.

“We’ve really struggled with this,” said U.S. Army-Japan Provost Marshal Lt. Col. Daniel Hulsebosch. “We looked at all the cases. There’s no pattern. It’s not one unit. It’s spread across everyone.”

The arrests grew from four in the first four months of 2003 to seven in the same period this year, a 75 percent rise.

Zama’s drunken-driving arrests are about 1.07 per thousand people over the four months, compared to 0.85 per thousand at Atsugi Naval Air Facility nearby; 0.57 at Yokota Air Base; and 0.72 at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

All bases around the Pacific are grappling to address the issue. For Marines on Okinawa, enforcement and media campaigns help remind people to not drive drunk.

At Misawa Air Base, Japan, a ride-home program created two years ago and sobriety checkpoints done in conjunction with Japanese police have helped drive down DUI rates.

In Japan over the next 100 days, soldiers, civilians and family members at Army bases will see an increase in enforcement and a massive education campaign.

Commanders will offer incentives to units that stay incident-free. Base clubs will promote non-alcoholic options and offer benefits for designated drivers.

It’s all part of a “101 Critical Days of Summer” campaign, launched this weekend by Maj. Gen. Elbert N. Perkins, U.S. Army-Japan commanding general.

The program is similar to others at many U.S. installations with the same objective — using public awareness and education while deglamorizing alcohol and getting commanders and senior soldiers involved.

Donna Nicosia, U.S. Army-Japan’s alcohol- and drug-control officer, and director of the Army Substance Abuse Program, spearheaded the program.

“The rise in [DUI] numbers gave me the impetus to do it,” she said. “Our concern is when we have a pattern established. And that’s what we have here.”

Part of the problem, Nicosia said, is people thinking they can drive after one or two drinks when they’re actually above Japan and South Korea’s low limits.

In Japan, the blood-alcohol limit off base is 0.03 and 0.05 on base. In South Korea, the limit off base is 0.05 and 0.08 on base, compared with 0.08 in most states back home.

Said Hulsebosch: “You can have a beer or two in the States and not be drunk. You cannot have a beer and in a half an hour drive off post here.”

According to Okinawa’s Marine Corps security office, arrests this quarter are 25 percent lower than the previous four quarters and lower than last year.

“We start with education and do checkpoints,” said Capt. Bernard Hess, the PMO’s operations officer. “We probably do more [than at stateside bases] just because of the media capabilities that are here. It lends itself to getting the word out more.”

On Okinawa, a public service message on the American Forces Network reaches most in the military community.

At Kadena Air Base, also on Okinawa, commanders keep at-risk airmen off the roads by revoking their licenses. Base security operates sobriety checkpoints, and airmen can take advantage of programs that offer free rides home.

Two years ago, after a rise in DUI arrests, leaders at Misawa Air Base launched a volunteer weekend program to drive drinkers home.

Misawa, too, had no explanation for the increase.

“It just happens,” said Chief Master Sgt. Franklin Smith, 35th Fighter Wing command chief master sergeant, adding it could be irresponsibility or simply better enforcement.

Misawa stepped up random patrols, partnering with Japanese National Police off base. Base officials this year have started alcohol-free programs targeting young, single servicemembers to deglamorize alcohol. Misawa also has a 101 Critical Days of Summer campaign.

Misawa’s DUI arrests more than doubled in the first four months of 2004 over the same period last year, thanks to, Smith said, the increased patrols. The increase soon will become a deterrent.

In South Korea this year, 8th Army leaders saw DUI numbers go up and responded by revoking driving privileges for the most common offenders, most soldiers E-6 and below. Most E-3s and below, and those in the 2nd Infantry Division, already were prohibited from driving.

According to a commentary by Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Richard A. Boyce, drunken driving is the most prevalent alcohol-related criminal offense among soldiers in South Korea.

DUI arrests jumped 55 percent in the first four months of the year over the same period last year, from 42 to 66.

“There is an issue,” said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, 8th Army spokesman. “The military could fix this by saying ‘no more alcohol’ but that’s not a good solution. This policy will help alleviate some of the problem in what has statistically been our high-risk population.”

Revoking driving privileges is one fix; it also alleviates crowded base roads and lessens the overall dangers for soldiers stationed there, Boylan said. The Army maintains constant education as well, to keep up with the high turnover among soldiers who usually are on one-year tours.

The goal for Army bases in Japan, according to leaders, is zero DUIs and raising awareness for servicemembers, dependents and civilians.

“I think the community understands why we’re doing this,” said Master Sgt. Terence Summers, U.S. Army-Japan Provost Sergeant. “Folks are still rolling the dice, though, and driving through here without a designated driver.”

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