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Air Force commanders on Okinawa impose drinking ‘pause,’ mandate plans to curb excesses after DUIs

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 3, 2020

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — December will be dry for some airmen at Kadena Air Base, where a record number of drunken driving and other alcohol-fueled incidents prompted commanders to curb their subordinates’ drinking, at least temporarily.

Starting late last month, three Air Force commanders began imposing restrictions on their airmen’s alcohol consumption, according to copies of those orders posted online on an unofficial Facebook page. Two of those orders have expired and one is still in place, according to those orders.

The broadest order, issued Nov. 16 by Col. William Ray, imposed a two-week ban on alcohol consumption across the 18th Maintenance Group, according to a copy posted on the Air Force amn/nco/snco page on Facebook. The group includes 2,300 aircraft maintainers and munitions experts in five squadrons, according to its official website.

In another instance, 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Joel Carey on Nov. 26 barred all staff sergeants and below from the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron from drinking off base, in “order to ensure fitness for duty as well as to ensure positive relations with our host nation.”

That order, which was also posted on the Air Force amn/nco/snco page, expired at midnight Wednesday.

Finally, Lt. Col. David Breuer, commander of the 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, on Tuesday ordered his airmen who choose to drink to write a plan, approved by their superiors, before heading for revelry off base. Breuer’s order, which has no expiration date, was posted on the same page.

The 18th Wing Public Affairs Office emailed a statement Thursday to Stars and Stripes in response to a request for further information.

“Based on the assessment of recent incidents, there are gaps in the effectiveness of alcohol training and education,” the email states. “The orders in question mitigate the risk of future incidents until the commander determines these gaps have been adequately remediated.”

The airmen demographic targeted by the orders is “directly tied to recent incidents,” according to the wing.

According to reports in the Okinawa Times newspaper, three Kadena airmen were arrested last month on drunken-driving accusations.

Ray, the group commander, on Nov. 29 responded directly to critical remarks in the comments section of the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page.

The maintenance group racked up six alcohol-related incidents or DUI charges over four weeks, he wrote. “Collectively, these incidents have cast a negative light on the outstanding work our members do every day.”

The drinking ban, he wrote, included all ranks, including himself, and was not intended to punish.

Rather, he wrote, the ban permitted squadron commanders a “strategic pause” to discuss responsible drinking and support programs. Airmen’s feedback would help eliminate gaps in existing programs, Ray wrote.

“We are working hard to provide a structured, professional, and positive atmosphere for our members in many ways,” he wrote.

Ray did not respond to requests Thursday from Stars and Stripes seeking comment through Facebook.

Breuer’s order mandates airmen of the 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron who choose to imbibe to detail their activities, including what, when and how much they plan to drink; a transportation plan; who the sober wingman will be and other information.

Senior airmen and below must obtain their supervisors’ and section chiefs’ approvals, and the plans will be routed further up the command chain, according to Breuer’s order.

In the past two years, according to Breuer’s order, squadron airmen accounted for 18 incidents tied to drinking, 15 of them perpetrated by senior airmen and below. Six were DUI offenses, he wrote.

“We must transcend abuse of alcohol as a display of toughness,” he wrote. “Our ability to biologically process alcohol does not help us win wars. Our ability to lead, think clearly, focus, prioritize, analyze and solve problems quickly does.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Aya Ichihashi contributed to this report.

burke.matt@stripes.com
Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1