YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — A petty officer recently got his rate, rank and command up in lights on a big sign inside Yokosuka’s main gate.

For three days, the sign flashed red, alternating with the time and temperature. And it told everybody a USS Kitty Hawk third class aviation maintenance administrationman was recently popped for drunken driving.

The sign is an experiment in deterrence started by the former base commander and continued by Capt. King Dietrich, who currently holds that post.

“The commanders don’t like it. The name of your ship is up there and it doesn’t make them happy,” said Dietrich. “I don’t want them to be happy. I want them to get intrusive with their troops and say, ‘Cut this crap.’

“It is kind of embarrassing when we have to put a CFAY [Commander Fleet Activity Yokosuka] guy up there.”

For years, the sign advertised only the number of days the base had gone without a DUI [driving under the influence of alcohol] or DWI [driving while intoxicated].

Officials say adding the extra information may have helped reduce the number of incidents.

As of New Year’s Eve, there had been 35 DUI and DWI stops in 2003, down from 50 in 2002 and 43 in 2001, officials said. The 2003 total was 26 until December, a typically bad month for DUI.

Like commanders everywhere, Dietrich is searching for tools to reduce the number of drunken and impaired driving arrests.

Misawa Air Base, Japan, lists the most recent arrest on the front page of its base newspaper.

Last summer in Aviano, Italy, one commander planned to give all 8,700 troops a day off if they could go 31 days without a DUI arrest. In the final hours of the last day, as a radio show did a countdown, a man was caught over the legal limit.

According to Yokosuka base statistics, more than half of DUIs (blood-alcohol level of .099 or lower) and DWIs (.10 and higher) happen off base.

In Japan, the legal limit is a 0.03 blood-alcohol level, far lower than the 0.08 limit in many U.S. states. For some people, it precludes drinking any alcohol before driving. The on-base limit is 0.05 “to provide a little wiggle-room for our guys,” Dietrich said.

But almost all arrested show much higher levels of alcohol in their blood, Dietrich said.

There’s been no alcohol-related serious-injury accidents in the past couple of years, Dietrich said, although perhaps one-third of DUI offenders are caught because they’re involved in fender-benders.

“DUI, for active-duty guys, nowadays is basically a career-ender,” Dietrich said.

That’s especially true for officers, he said. Since July, a warrant officer and lieutenant junior grade were arrested for DUI/DWI, Dietrich said, and their careers are not bright.

“If I were to get a DUI, I’d never get promoted. I’d have to show cause why I should even stay in the Navy,” said Lt. Cmdr. Tim Stone, the Kitty Hawk’s staff judge advocate.

An enlisted sailor found guilty at a Captain’s Mast — nonjudicial punishment — of a single DUI could earn between 30 to 45 days’ restriction, extra duties, a reduction in rate, which may or may not be suspended, and a monetary loss of up to one-half of a month’s pay for one or two months, Stone said.

Additionally, a DUI arrest triggers a review of other sailor’s liberty cards, which, under the “Exceptional Sailor” program, allows sailors overnight freedom. “Typically, they’ll revoke everybody’s liberty card in the department,” Kitty Hawk spokesman Lt. Brook Dewalt said.

Kitty Hawk was on the board a couple of times in December, but also has the highest population of any command, and with a lot of young men, the demographic group most likely to be arrested for DWI.

Dewalt said he thought the base sign was helpful.

“I think it’s a good tool,” he said. “It certainly makes all of us more aware.”

Spokesman Bill Doughty of the base hospital, which he said has had very few people on the board, agreed.

“If it acts as a deterrent and saves one life then it’s worth the potential embarrassment,” he said. “Anybody who drives by there sees that board and maybe thinks twice.”

Many days, there are no rates, ranks or units up on the board.

Instead, the number of days without a DUI/DWI arrest flashes.

The most days Dietrich said he’s aware of was 66 days, following Sept. 11, 2001, when the base was under heavy security restrictions. The next longest was 52 days, he said.

“My goal is 100 days,” he said.

Dietrich plans to add a little carrot to go with the stick. In the next couple of weeks, after the statistics are sorted out, he plans to honor commands without any DUI arrests, or those with the fewest proportionally, he said.

Then again, sometimes he’d like a bigger stick.

“I’d love, at one level, to put names up there,” he said. “But we can’t do that.”

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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