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ARLINGTON, Va. — If you’re old enough to fight, you may now be old enough to make a toast at the next Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

The Marine Corps has changed its drinking policy to allow Marines between 18 and 21 to drink on special occasions if they get approval from their commanders.

“Special circumstances are those infrequent, nonroutine military occasions when an entire unit, as a group, marks at a military installation a uniquely military occasion such as the conclusion of arduous military duty or the anniversary of the establishment of a military service or organization,” according to the new policy.

The new policy is outlined in MARADMIN (Marine Administrative Message) 266/07 available at www.usmc.mil.

In another change, Marines 18 years and older can drink overseas with their commander’s approval, depending on the host nations’ drinking laws, officials said.

“This change allows overseas installation commanders to provide an on-base location for safe and responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages, vice an unprotected venue outside the installation,” said Bryan Driver, a Personal and Family Readiness Division spokesman.

The new policy does not apply to Marines on leave, Driver said.

In 1997, the Corps made the minimum drinking age 21 for Marines, with no exceptions, Driver said.

But in September, the Corps lowered the drinking age for Marines in Japan to 20 to reflect the local drinking age.

The Corps decided to change the drinking policy for all Marines to mirror Defense Department and other services’ drinking policies, Driver said.

The Army, Navy and Air Force allow their servicemembers overseas to drink at age 18 or whatever the local drinking age is, officials said.

Defense Department and Army regulations have language similar to the Corps’ new policy allowing servicemembers from 18 to 21 to drink on special occasions, but the Navy and Air Force do not, officials said.

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