Marines’ new alcohol policy strictest in U.S. military

The Marine Corps‘ new on-duty standard for drinking alcohol is so strict that less than one drink at lunch would trigger a “positive” and get a warrior in hot water.

The Washington Times reported earlier this week that the Corps sent a Dec. 12 message to commanders officially beginning mandatory breath tests for all 197,000 Marines twice each year.

A reading of just .01 percent subjects a Marine to counseling. A Marine who registers a .04 must be examined by medical staff for fitness for duty.

The Corps is the first among the Army, Air Force and Navy to begin random mandatory testing of all personnel.
The Army leaves test decisions up to a commander and prohibits a blood alcohol content (BAC) at .05 percent or higher. The Air Force also instructs commanders to order alcohol tests when appropriate but has no compulsory program.

The Navy said last March it plans to conduct mandatory breath tests. A spokeswoman says the program will not start until next year.

Overall, this makes the new Corps anti-alcohol testing the military’s strictest.

The Marine memo calls a “positive test result” a reading of .01 or greater, which results in automatic “screening and treatment as appropriate.”

“I think it’s outrageously low,” said Neal Puckett, a defense attorney and retired Marine Corps judge advocate. “Guess it’s zero tolerance for alcohol just like the zero tolerance for drugs.”

“No one would be impaired at a 0.01 alcohol concentration,” said Bruce Goldberger, a University of Florida professor and a renowned forensic toxicologist, to The Times.

For an average-size man of 150 pounds, one drink would register a .02 reading, Mr. Goldberger said. For an average woman, he said, a single drink would result in a .03.

“So if you look at a scenario where someone in the Marine Corps goes to a bar and drinks two drinks, that would give him a BAC of a .04,” he said. “It would take him about two to three hours to clear the alcohol in the bloodstream.”

“It’s possible if a Marine goes to a bar and is drinking a substantial amount of alcohol over the course of an evening, and he gets himself to a BAC of 1.5 or 2.0, if they are tested first thing in the morning when they report to duty, they may still have some alcohol in their blood and test positive,” he added.

Mr. Goldberger, who is director of toxicology at the university’s Department of Pathology, said various breath testers, often referred to as “Breathalyzers,” are reliable and accurate.

He said any Marine picked for a random test who has recently gargled with mouthwash should be given 20 minutes or so to let the alcohol disappear before blowing into the machine.

A reading of .01 “is very low,” he said, meaning the Marine Corps must ensure that the breath testers it uses can discern a “negative” score from a minimal reading.

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