DoD Announces Overseas Drinking Law Change From ‘Original Interpretation’

Previously, U.S. Military servicemembers were permitted to drink at the age of 18 in Bahrain based on a former interpretation of the law. However, the DoD has since amended that policy, raising the age of alcohol consumption to 21.

The Department of Defense recently notified personnel through an alert sent via command messaging list that the drinking age for all troops stationed in Bahrain will be raised from 18 to 21 in a three-step process.

To illustrate the change, the message took the form of a visual “picture” diagram, as reported by Stars and Stripes.

The modification does not come as a response to any particular incident, alcohol-related or otherwise, only to “more closely follow Navy policies,” the military news outlet reported. Navy rules concerning consumption of alcohol in foreign countries give latitude to allow troops to “follow local drinking laws” and base commanders “can set the rules based on their discretion.”

A recent internal review flagged an inconsistency that under Bahraini laws, there is no drinking age in the country. According to Lt. Christina Gibson acting as spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, “as a result, the drinking age was set to be in accordance with the Navy’s policy.”

As described in the notifying graphic, the first step, implemented in late July, “bans the off-base purchase of alcohol by anyone under 21.” Since August 1, nobody under the age of 21 has been allowed to buy alcohol on the post.

In an attempt to ease the transition, even though the purchase of alcohol is now forbidden to 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, they will be allowed to consume any liquor they have in their possession already as long as they drink it on the base.

On September 1, the full ban will go into effect, prohibiting the “consumption of alcohol by anyone under 21.”

An email statement provided by Gibson relates that “the policy change is to ensure that all military service members, DoD civilian employees and contractors attached or assigned to military units in Bahrain, as well as the dependents of all these personnel, are operating within Navy policy.”

Gibson also explained that until the recent review by policy auditors, “the original interpretation of Bahraini laws was why 18-year-olds were allowed to drink.” Somebody putting the question under the microscope suddenly realized that just because the country didn’t establish a drinking age, does not mean they intend to permit it either.

On the United States mainland, there remain a variety of state laws interpreting the same question differently. Drinking ages vary from 18 to 21 depending primarily on cultural and historical differences.

To settle the question, the Navy made a decision and firmly nailed the age to a non-controversial 21. Bahrain is one of the more culturally relaxed of the Middle-Eastern countries but still frowns upon excess consumption of alcohol. “Drunken behavior in public and driving under the influence of alcohol are against the law.”

Even though the policy shift was not tied directly with any specific incident, the change came hard on the heels of a Rand health study that revealed nearly “a third of troops reported binge drinking.” Leadership is taking the issue very seriously.

The report also mentions that two-thirds of all service members view military culture as “supportive of drinking.”

The sea services are more prone to binge drinking than their land-based colleagues. The Marine Corps topped the list with 42.6 percent of respondents admitting “they engaged in binge drinking within the past 30 days.” A “binge” is defined as 5 or more drinks on any one occasion.

In the Navy, 34.2 percent of sailors reported partying that heavily, and over 31 percent of Coast Guard respondents had a tendency to consume more than a few.

These numbers were cooked down from data collected back in 2015 but when compared to the previous report from 2011, very little had changed. Despite awareness campaigns and similar attempts at education, the level is still high enough to “cause concern.”

Naval and related sea branches of the service also tallied up “the highest rates of hazardous or disordered drinking.” Not the same as alcoholism addiction, “use disorder” is still a big step in that direction and “can result in serious consequences, loss of productivity, and risky behavior,” the report notes.

Dr. Sarah Meadows, a Rand senior sociologist and one of the leaders of the study remarked on the prevalence of Marines as heavy drinkers. “We’re not trying to blame anyone for this, but the Marine Corps does tend to stand out,” she notes.

“Marines tend to be young men. Compared to young men on college campuses, it’s pretty similar.” She also notes that “the type of person who joins the Marines is not necessarily the type of person who joins the Air Force.”

For the past few years, Navy leaders have been encouraging sailors to be “responsible” in their alcohol use and promoting “healthy alternatives to drinking,” Lt. Rick Moore explained.

As chief of naval personnel, Moore is well familiar with what happens when sailors get let off the boat.

“Navy leadership at all levels regularly engages with sailors, especially before long weekends and holiday periods, to discuss the importance of responsible drinking and the necessity for sailors to have a plan in place, like having a designated driver, if they are going to be drinking.”

The Coast Guard has been doing their part in education and prevention. According to Lisa Novak, “Coast Guard leaders also work to educate members about alcohol abuse and prevention throughout their careers.”

It is important to be consistent, she asserts. “The Coast Guard also provides consistent messaging about the services and support available to personnel who believe they need help dealing with alcohol-related issues.”

The Marine Corps isn’t as politically correct with their messaging on the subject: “Marines need to drink less, read more, and [train] smarter.”

“We’re known for our toughness and endurance, but many of us eat poorly, smoke, dip, and drink alcohol excessively,” Commandant General Robert Neller relates. “This self-abuse plays into the hands of our enemies. Take a hard look at how you are living your life. Be honest. Are you taking care of your mind, body, and spirit?”