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European edition, Sunday, September 23, 2007

NAPLES, Italy — Kirsten Mentzer thoroughly enjoys her half-glass of Guinness beer while studying. But at age 18, she had to rely on her parents to supply the occasional indulgence.

Now, with a change in the alcohol-purchasing restrictions at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, if she so desires, she can buy the booze herself.

Capt. Floyd Hehe, base commanding officer, announced during a town hall meeting last week a policy change he said he knew would stir up a bit of controversy.

He’s lowered from 21 to 18 the age to buy beer and wine for civilians and dependents.

Here’s why: Active-duty sailors already can buy beer and wine at age 18. And dependent teens and young adults already are going out in the town to buy alcohol, where there are no age controls on the purchase of alcohol.

Lowering the age restrictions to let them purchase and consume alcohol on base gives officials and parents “at least some kind of oversight, some kind of safety and security for dependents,” Hehe said at Tuesday’s open forum.

Kirsten’s mother, Michelle Mentzer, doesn’t approve of Hehe’s decision. While sailors overseas can buy alcohol at age 18, younger than the 21 age restriction in most states, they’re under a lot more scrutiny from superiors than young dependents.

“By 18, they’re legally adults, but I disagree with the policy [change for dependents],” said the mother of three adult daughters, ages 24, 22 and 18.

For starters, sailors get formalized, mandated training and briefings on use of alcohol. “Dependents are not active duty, and don’t have the training or get those briefings,” Mentzer said. “They won’t have their chiefs coming down on them. For dependents, there is a lack of fail-safes.”

The change might present an opportunity for teens, young adults and parents to discuss issues of responsibility, alcohol consumptions and drinking and driving, said Kirsten Mentzer, who already is finishing up an undergraduate degree in library sciences.

“This could be a great tool to teach responsibility, but at the same time, there has to be a will to learn responsibility and a good model to teach about responsibility. I wish parents would step in more. So many of us need everything laid out for us, everything explained,” she said

Sandy Daniels, principal at the high school, declined to comment on the issue.

The policy change is applicable to purchases of beer and wine only. So, if you need a ration card for it — as one would to buy whiskey, tequila or gin — you’ll need to be age 21.

“We are allowing dependents who are 18 to be able to buy these products at the local Navy Exchange Express or NATO stores,” Hehe said. “However, although 18-year-olds are considered adults, the responsibility still falls on their sponsor to make sure that the purchase and consumption is done reasonably and responsibly.”

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