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VILSECK, Germany — The 2nd Cavalry Regiment is considering raising the drinking age for its soldiers to combat drunken driving and fights with German civilians in and around Vilseck.

Maj. Bryan Denny, the unit’s deputy commander, said Wednesday he had instructed Army lawyers to look into the mechanics of raising the drinking age to 21 for soldiers from the regiment.

“It is an extreme measure,” he said in an interview, “and the problem is enforcing it when a guy goes off-post.”

Currently, U.S. soldiers serving in Germany only need to comply with German liquor laws, which allow people as young as 16 to drink beer and wine and people over 18 to drink hard liquor.

The move is not without precedent. U.S. military officials in South Korea raised the drinking age from 20 to 21 on Nov. 1, 2004, with the stated goal of reducing the number of alcohol-related incidents involving younger troops.

Raising the drinking age is among the measures that 2nd Cav is considering or has adopted following a series of fights between its soldiers and German civilians since the unit arrived in Germany last summer. Those measures include courtesy patrols by 2nd Cav leaders through Vilseck on Friday and Saturday nights.

Denny said a new on-post sports bar and longer opening hours for another on-post bar — Yesterdays — could help cut alcohol-related incidents off-post.

The proposal to raise the drinking age was met with mixed results by soldiers in the area.

Spc. Josh Dunaway, 22, a military policeman with the Ohio National Guard, said it would help. The MPs have had to deal with a lot of drunken soldiers since the Strykers arrived, he said.

“They get wasted and they can hardly move,” Dunaway said. “We have to call ambulances, and that costs the Army a lot of unneeded work.

“We get a lot of 18- and 19-year-olds who are not used to drinking and they just get carried away.”

But Pfc. Gustavo Orozzo, 20, of the 2nd Cav, said he’s not sure that raising the drinking age is the answer.

“A lot of people are getting in trouble, but it’s not an age factor,” said Orozzo, who admitted he’ll probably keep drinking here even if they raise the drinking age. “I definitely cut back, but I definitely won’t quit drinking.”

Pfc. Brent Murdough, 20, also of the 2nd Cav, said he believes something needs to be done, even though it’s only a few soldiers who are abusing alcohol. But, he added, raising the drinking age probably won’t be very effective.

Vilseck Provost Marshall Maj. Ray said assaults by U.S. soldiers have declined in Vilseck this year. Military police statistics for the first 10 months of 2006 show 69 assaults, down from 90 during the first 10 months of 2005 — a 23 percent drop.

Drunken driving cases have increased to 67 in 2006 from 56 last year, a 19 percent jump, he said. He cited the influx of young soldiers to Vilseck this year.

The recent high-profile incidents involving 2nd Cav soldiers off post are not a reflection of the unit as a whole, Ray added.

“If you check the history from years ago, you are going to find the same things happened then as now. Second Cav didn’t bring a bunch of bad people with them,” he said.

And efforts by the unit’s leadership to deal with the problem have been phenomenal, he said.

“They have come here with a very positive attitude to the community. They want to be part of the community and you have the same attitude from people downtown who want to make them welcome here in Germany,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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