YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Hold surprise drug tests on weekends. Keep a close watch on sailors during their first 72 hours at a new command. Reward positive behavior.

As a three-day, regionwide substance abuse summit wrapped up Wednesday at Yokosuka, those ideas were among the suggestions offered by conference participants.

After sitting through presentations by substance abuse experts from the Naval Personnel Command, Pacific Fleet and Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Branch, the participants broke off into small groups, brainstormed for “best practices,” and reported their findings to their colleagues.

“The biggest thing is to provide and promote alternatives to drinking,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Jerry McClain, of the USS Kitty Hawk.

“You really have to push those sailors to the alternatives. But if they don’t use them, you need swift and consistent punishments — like public masts,” he said, referring to the Navy’s practice of nonjudicial punishment.

McClain, like many of his peers, said the key to preventing younger sailors from committing alcohol or drug-related offenses was to get to them early in their careers.

Several suggested incorporating substance abuse awareness into mentorship programs and assigning sponsors the task of introducing a new sailor to something other than the bar district during their first 72 hours at a command.

“Listen to the sailors. Ask what the roadblocks are to doing things on liberty other than drinking,” McClain said.

Other suggestions included ways to improve the drug testing system. Among the common problems cited by the summit participants was getting command leadership to give drug tests as much attention as operational concerns.

Several of the participants come from commands whose personnel are scattered throughout the region, or have detachments on deployments far away.

“The big challenges that we have are setting the same guidelines for all of our detachments and preserving the chain of custody for samples from all of them,” said Chief Petty Officer Virgilio Dariani, of the Fleet and Industrial Support Center, headquartered in Yokosuka.

“We have multiple locations — Misawa, Yokota, everywhere. So it’s hard to coordinate them all.”

Another concern for some of the smaller commands, and for some of the smaller ships, was how to ensure proper testing procedures for extremely small female populations.

One participant said his command had only two females; Navy rules say a qualified female observer must watch all specimens and ensure they are not tampered with or lost.

Another attendee, who works on the defense side of the Navy legal system, reiterated that any irregularities in a test would be exploited by a defense team in a court case.

Others stressed the importance of getting senior enlisted and officers to back the programs.

“Having a frequent ‘Captain’s Call,’ maybe once a week and especially before holiday weekends, could help,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Kopp of Mobile Mine Assembly Unit 10, Okinawa.

“So would giving incentives for participation in things like the designated driver program. It’s not all about punishment.”

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