It’s hard to think about Germany without conjuring up images of Oktoberfest or the hillside vineyards along the Rhein or Moselle rivers. After all, this country is famous for its beer and wine.
Here in Stuttgart, two big fests are about to start: the Stuttgart wine village at the end of August, and the Cannstatter Volksfest at the end of September. I encourage everyone to get out and experience German culture, and these fests are a great way to do it. But we must all be responsible in how we consume alcohol. Don’t drink and drive. Have a plan before you go out that ensures your safe and uneventful return home every time. Recognize the reality that, as a drug, alcohol impairs your senses and decision-making abilities. It’s important to develop a plan — before you even take a sip. We all know about the consequences of drinking and driving, and the importance of designated drivers. I realize you’ve heard it time and time again, yet many in the community continue to violate this very simple rule. Since October of last year, members of the Stuttgart military community have been charged with 32 offenses related to drunken driving. The NATO Status of Forces Agreement requires that all U.S. service members follow host nation laws. This means that we must follow the German rules of the road. It’s important to know that even though the German attitude toward drinking may seem to be more casual than in the U.S., driving drunk in Germany carries much stricter penalties than the States. The German police often set up checkpoints during beer and wine festivals, and near known drinking establishments. Service members and civilians who are stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol will face a number of possible consequences. Under German law, a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of as little as .05 percent could be fined up to €500 and be assessed four traffic points. Under Army in Europe Regulation 190-1, Driver and Vehicle Requirements and the Installation Traffic Code for the U.S. Forces in Germany, this same driver will also have his U.S. Army Europe driving privileges suspended for 90 days. Fines and suspensions increase with additional incidents. Further, junior service members in particular should know that drivers under the age of 21 can lose their license if their BAC shows any alcohol use whatsoever.
Service members who drink and drive also, of course, face action by their command. A command could respond by filing a general officer memorandum of reprimand in the service member’s personnel file; imposing non-judicial punishment, which can mean loss of rank and pay, among other things; or by seeking a court martial. While a DUI is a very serious offense across the board, in this day and age, as retention standards become stricter, a military career probably won’t survive one. With the unemployment rate as high as it is, the financial impact on families is potentially more severe than one might think. Think about the other costs, such as stress to self and family, the loss of rank and your reputation, increased insurance premiums and fines, as well as the permanent stain on your record. We have all worked too hard in service of our country to end our tours in Europe as alcohol-related casualties. Have a plan before you participate in these events. If you drive, do not drink; if you drink, do not drive. Keep in mind the number of alternatives to drinking under the influence. Mass transportation, taxis and designated drivers are all good alternatives to driving under the influence of alcohol.
Additionally, an emerging trend within Germany is the availability of great tasting non-alcoholic beer. If you must drive, non-alcoholic beer or other non-alcoholic drinks may be your ticket to a safe and uneventful return home. Leaders and supervisors at all levels must take proactive measures to reduce alcohol-related incidents within their organizations. This requires leaders to establish goals and guidelines that clearly communicate expectations regarding on- and off-duty behavior that emphasizes the importance of appropriate consumption of alcohol and sound decision making at all times. Additionally, friends, comrades and co-workers have an obligation to do everything possible to prevent anyone they know from driving while intoxicated. Whatever you do, do not look the other way in hope that everything will turn out well. There is too much at stake to take such a risk. Education and awareness are vital to reducing our alcohol-related incidents, but more importantly, to developing a values-based lifestyle that can bring much more meaning and value to service members and their families. U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart has a Comprehensive Fitness Program that is designed to positively impact all facets of our lives, including the social, family, spiritual, emotional, and physical dimensions. I encourage everyone to contact the USAG Stuttgart Health Promotion Officer, and check out both the Stuttgart garrison, and Family and MWR websites to see how our great programs can lead to improved wellness and resiliency.
Recognition and incentives also play an important role in this process. Recently, USAG Stuttgart initiated an installation-wide Garrison Commander and Command Sergeant Major Incentive Award that will be presented to all units that go a full quarter free of alcohol-related incidents. This award increases in category, from bronze, silver, gold and platinum, with each alcohol incident-free quarter. I encourage leaders and supervisors throughout the Stuttgart military community to highlight this and other programs that encourage sound decision making and planning with the end state of eliminating these incidents. As USAG Stuttgart’s Garrison Commander, I personally challenge unit commanders, military and civilian leaders, directors and service members to commit to no alcohol-related incidents during the upcoming wine and beer fests. Let’s work together to make Stuttgart a model of excellence, ensuring the safety of all our community members. Remember, your safety, the safety of others — even the well-being of your family — depends on your good judgment.