Drinking has long been a part of Navy culture, but excessive alcohol use by service members has become a health and safety concern. Officials announced yesterday that they will conduct random blood-alcohol tests on US sailors starting next month, as part of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus' 21st Century Sailor and Marine Initiative, an expansive program intended to improve the well-being of sailors and Marines. By May 24, the Navy expects to have hand-held alcohol detection devices available for nearly 2,000 commands. "Deterring irresponsible use of alcohol is essential to the readiness of our fleet and ensuring the health and safety of our service members and units," said Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, in a statement.
The blood-alcohol tests will be used to determine if a sailor is unfit for duty or requires professional help. A sailor with a BAC of 0.02 or higher will be flagged, compared to the much higher 0.08 limit for drunk driving in all 50 states. Service members who test at .04 or higher will be banned from work that day, and may be referred to counselors.
An earlier pilot program of these tests revealed that alcohol use in the Navy is actually quite low. Out of the 7,500 sailors subjected to random tests this past summer, only 87 tested positive for alcohol. "The test verified that the majority of our service members, who choose to drink alcohol, do so responsibly," said Gortney. "It also verified that our commanding officers need a flexible program that serves to increase the Navy's awareness about the impacts of alcohol." The Navy has also begun conducting urine tests for synthetic drugs, and positive tests will be met with much harsher punishments under the Navy's zero-tolerance policy towards synthetic drug use (as emphasized in this video about bath salts).