YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Mark Schissler arrived nearly two years ago, he was startled by the number of Yokota residents charged with drunken driving.

The base, with a population of about 14,000, had 63 arrests in 2001, 42 in 2002 and 46 in 2003, the year he arrived.

“It’s just too many,” Schissler recalled thinking. “My No. 1 goal was reducing DUIs for the first year.”

He began by focusing on the consequences at the time: 90 days restricted driving.

“It was too lenient,” he said. “My feeling was we were being too soft.”

So Schissler raised the punishment for first-time offenders to loss of driving rights for between six months and two years, depending on the level of drunkenness. The punishment was applied to any base resident arrested anywhere, including off base or outside Japan.

A blood-alcohol content of .08 and above is considered driving under the influence on base. When it measures .05 to .079, it’s driving while intoxicated. Drivers who register between .03 and .049 are suspected of DWDI (driving while drinking indicated) on base. Off base in Japan, .03 is considered a DUI.

In 2004, the first year with the new punishment in place, the number of people charged with drunken driving dropped 57 percent, to 20 — including one servicemember who was charged in the United States. Three of the incidents occurred in December.

Schissler said he can’t say for sure the heavier consequences made the difference, but they certainly helped. The base also increased detection programs and began an anti-drunken driving campaign that included promoting the on-base free-ride program called 225-RIDE (the DSN phone number for the service). Last year 225-RIDE gave rides to 4,200 people, Schissler said, an average of almost 81 people a week.

Detection increased at the gates and through random patrols. Gate guards were instructed to more closely check drivers at night for any signs of drunkenness.

As the base commander, Schissler can take away base privileges such as driving rights, but individual commands still prescribe specific punishments for crimes such as driving drunk.

He encouraged commanders, supervisors and first sergeants to push the issue and to be strict with punishments. All squadrons but one at Yokota reduced their DUI numbers last year, he said.

Base safety officials plan now to target people who take the train and walk to base, but then drive home from parking lots near the gate, they said.

Schissler said he intends to continue the emphasis on drunken-driving prevention, for the safety of base residents and for host-nation relations.

“I think we have found the right formula,” he said. “Individuals are making good choices.”

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