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January 23, 2013

Navy: Random alcohol tests for sailors in US

NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy said Wednesday it will conduct random blood-alcohol tests on its sailors in the United States starting next month, a sign of how concerned the service's leaders have become about the effects alcohol abuse is having on the force.

The tests are 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 after more than a decade at war.

The Marines announced it would carry out its own random alcohol tests last month. While alcohol has long played a part in the Navy's culture, Navy officials stressed they aren't trying to stop sailors from drinking altogether, but are concerned about their health and safety.

The Navy said it will use the blood-alcohol tests to determine whether someone is fit for duty or may need counseling. Any sailor whose blood-alcohol level is .04 or higher when reporting for duty won't be allowed to work. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a driver with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol is considered drunk.

A positive test result for a sailor reporting to work — a reading of 0.02 percent or higher — won't be used to punish sailors. But the Navy said it could be used to refer him or her to a drug and alcohol program adviser.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, said the random tests could help spot sailors who need support before "an incident occurs due to the irresponsible use of alcohol." He also wrote in a message outlining the new details of the policy to the fleet that the tests will serve as a safety measure and raise awareness among commanding officers of a crew's "culture of alcohol use."

Alcohol is of particular concern because of the role it frequently plays in other destructive behaviors such as suicide and sexual assault. Alcohol also has played a factor in the dismissals of a number of commanding officers in recent years.

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