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Article updated: 12/31/2012 2:49 PM

U.S. Marines to face random blood-alcohol tests

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By Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Marines and sailors will be subject to random blood-alcohol tests twice a year in what is billed as the toughest anti-drinking policy in the U.S. military.

Starting Jan. 1, any Marine or sailor with a blood-alcohol level of 0.01 percent or higher may be referred for counseling. Anyone who tests at 0.04 percent or higher will be referred to medical personnel to determine fitness for duty.

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In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a driver with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol is considered drunk. A single drink can lead to a level of 0.01 percent.

The Marine Corps policy is primarily aimed at deterrence and education, but nothing precludes commanders from handing out punishments, Lt. Gen. R.E. Milstead Jr., deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, said in a Dec. 12 directive.

The Corps is the first among the Army, Air Force and Navy to begin random mandatory testing of all personnel, according to The Washington Times, (http://bit.ly/XPvntb ), which reported on the new policy last week. The Army leaves test decisions up to a commander and prohibits a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent or higher. The Air Force also instructs commanders to order alcohol tests when appropriate but has no compulsory program.

The Navy will introduce mandatory tests sometime in January, Lt. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman, said Monday.

A study in September by the Institute of Medicine, sponsored by the Department of Defense, found that binge drinking, often called "sport drinking," is increasing among military personnel in all branches, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/U6d6Xe ).

In 1998, 35 percent of personnel admitted to binge drinking in the previous year. In 2008, the last year for which statistics were available, that figure had risen to 47percent. Twenty percent of personnel classified themselves as "heavy" drinkers.

Noting that "alcohol has long been part of military culture," the study's authors called for better leadership from the top of the chain of command in curbing excess drinking. Among the recommendations was "routine screening for excessive alcohol consumption."

In fiscal 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, the Marine Corps reported 13 alcohol-related deaths among Marines in this country and abroad, the Times reported. Included were Marines killed by vehicle and motorcycle crashes, one from falling 17 stories from a building, one from attempting to run across a freeway near Camp Pendleton and several that occurred during binge drinking when the Marine passed out and could not be revived.

Under the Marine order, monthly reports about the results of the alcohol screening program will be kept by each Marine unit, and quarterly reports will be submitted to Marine Corps headquarters.

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