MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Though the penalties for a DUI here are stiff, people are still driving under the influence of alcohol. Twenty-nine DUI arrests have been made this year — the last one about two weeks ago, according to information from 35th Security Forces Squadron.

Still, base officials are hoping to reach would-be holiday imbibers with a simple message.

“If you’re going to drink, drink responsibly,” said Sherri Light, manager of the base’s Drug Demand Reduction Program.

Base officials are calling December “Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month” in conjunction with the national campaign of the same name. Throughout the month, they’re planning Fatal Vision goggles demonstrations outside the base exchange, and they’ll be tying green ribbons along Friendship Drive to remind people to drive responsibly, Light said. She said the 35th Fighter Wing safety office also will be handing out green ribbons for drivers to tie on their car antennas.

“DUIs have slowed down, but it’s up from last year,” Light said. “Here in Japan, if you drink one drink, you don’t drive; that’s the way you have to think. It’s not worth risking, ‘Oh, I might be a 0.02.’”

In Japan, a blood alcohol concentration of 0.03 constitutes driving while intoxicated, according to Master Sgt. Jere Brewer, a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor with 35th Medical Group. For some, that’s one drink, and it’s less than half of what it takes to be legally intoxicated in the United States with a 0.08 BAC, Brewer and Light noted.

A BAC of 0.03 while driving on base also is considered legally intoxicated and can result in a six-month suspension of driving privileges; at most bases throughout Japan, the legal threshold is 0.05.

Before venturing out to the local bars or a holiday party, “you need to have a plan,” Light said. “Once you start drinking, your ability to reason is diminished. The plans you make while you’re drinking typically aren’t the best plans.”

The Misawa Community and Services Against Drunk Driving, or MCSADD, is free and anonymous, officials said. Volunteer drivers will give anyone who’s been drinking on base a ride to his or her on- or off-base residence, no questions asked. Call DSN 226-1662 for a ride. Off base, Kichi taxi is available.

If nothing else, call “your first shirt or commander,” Light said. “They would have somebody over in a heartbeat.” A first sergeant “would rather get that call at 2 in the morning than to have to pick you up at 4 in the morning at the cop shop,” she added.

Light also said that friends of those who drink or anyone throwing a holiday party need to act responsibly.

“You make sure if somebody drinks, they have a designated driver,” she said. “If somebody is drinking too fast, you need to tell them to slow down. You are responsible for the people who drink in your home.”

Brewer, in a written statement, said: “Here at Misawa, we see our share of the ills from alcohol” whether from a DUI, bar brawl, sexual assault, domestic conflict or a medical problem. “The common thread is and has been the consumption of alcohol” in an irresponsible manner, he wrote.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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