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Stryker brigade fights alcohol abuse with perks and transparency

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Dec. 20, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
December 20, 2011 4:02 pm
This image is an example of how the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division keeps track of soldier

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade is tackling an uncomfortable problem by opening up and drawing attention to the repercussions soldiers face when they’re arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Since September, the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has published DUI totals for each of its six subordinate battalions. Units are rewarded with a three-day weekend whenever they hit six weeks without a DUI.

Commanders post the information to the brigade’s Facebook page, where soldiers and family members root for DUI-free streaks.

“There’s a lot of competition; the units take it very seriously,” said Staff Sgt. Bryce Dubee of the brigade’s public affairs office.

Brigade commander Col. Michael Getchell wants the transparency to show soldiers that they face real consequences for criminal behavior, and that leaders won’t look the other way.

“This is plain old fashioned ‘You did it and everyone’s going to know about it,’” said Sgt. 1st Class James Grindoe, 36, of the brigade’s headquarters company.

The Army has sought to address DUIs over the past few years as “high risk” behavior that could lead to suicide or career-ending legal consequences for soldiers. The number of DUI incidents in the Army peaked at 4,009 in 2007, up from 850 in 2001. The total declined to 3,543 in 2009, according to a 2010 Army investigation into soldier suicides.

Grindoe said his brigade chose to pay more attention to alcohol abuse after 26 of its soldiers recorded DUI arrests in the Army’s last fiscal year.

Meanwhile, he said surveys revealed that some soldiers were frustrated by personal misconduct detracting from training and unit exercises.

“Whenever someone has an alcohol incident, it actually takes away from the readiness of the entire unit,” Grindoe said. “That soldier can’t drive on post and his team leader has to drive him to his appointments. The unit can no longer focus on training.”

Grindoe helped organize a forum last week where civilian law enforcement officers and the parents of a Tacoma woman who was killed by a drunk driver talked about the consequences of alcohol abuse. Grindoe said he wanted soldiers to come away with an emotional understanding of the damage a drunk driver can cause.

He said Col. Getchell has more projects in the works to keep up the attention on the risks of alcohol abuse.

“The colonel is all about fixing this problem,” Grindoe said. “He has done everything he possibly can do so it’s public knowledge of what ramifications can happen.”

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