By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMay 2, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 2, 2013) -- Eighty thousand is the number of people that can fit into the Olympic Stadium in London, and also the number of people that die from alcohol abuse each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Fort Rucker held its annual alcohol abuse awareness training at the post theater April 29-30 to combat statistics like the one above, and did so with an innovative and unconventional presentation of the play "Rum and Vodka" that was meant to spark discussion and pique interest, according to Bryan Doerries, Outside the Wire artistic director.
"We use theater as a catalyst for discussion about difficult topics like public health issues and social justice issues," he said. "For the last four years, we've been touring the world, especially military installations, and we hear the most remarkable things said about the plays we perform by the people who come into contact with the truth of the [performances]."
The 25-minute dramatic reading by Brendan Griffin, an actor who's been seen on shows such as "Generation Kill" and "Law and Order," tells the story of a 24-year-old man living in Dublin, surrounded on all sides by a drinking culture. The production took the audience on a journey with the man as he went on a three-day bender during which he eventually loses his job, cheats on his wife and nearly loses everything in the process.
Doerries said the play wasn't meant to mirror military culture in any way, but to present a very human story that people might be able to relate to.
"It's meant to make you ask yourself a very fundamental question," he said. "What do you recognize that's truthful in this story? What do you see in yourself?"
After the reading, a panel of volunteers made up of Fort Rucker community members shared how the play related to moments in their life and what similarities they noticed.
Tim Jones, Army Substance Abuse Program employee, was among the panel members and shared his experience with alcohol and the adverse effects that it had on his life.
"One of the big things I could relate to was getting married at a young age," he said. "I got married when I was 19 and I was usually drinking on the weekends. After a while, the drinking grew to drinking on the weekdays and weekends, and then I joined the military."
Jones said he had a drinking problem when he joined the military and it didn't help that he was first stationed in Germany where there is a large drinking culture, adding that drinking largely contributed to his separation from the military.
He said he was able to relate to the self-centeredness of the character in the play and how nothing was ever his fault.
"One part that I could really relate to is when he cheated on his wife and felt really bad about it, but then it wasn't his fault," said Jones.
During the play, the man blamed the woman he cheated with for being at fault because he felt she should have known better since he was a married man, and the idea of putting blame on something or someone else was something that Jones said was easy to relate to.
"My colonel told me, when I got RIF'd out, that the reason he approved it was because I didn't know how to separate my on-duty time from my off-duty time," he said of his removal from the Army during a reduction in forces. "After that, I haven't found it necessary to take a drink since Aug. 1, 1988."
After the panel discussion, an open discussion was held with the audience members, during which they were asked questions and were able to share their own experiences.
Christina Parker, civilian, said she was surprised at the way the play sparked discussion and appreciated the fact the installation found a new way to approach alcohol abuse training.
"I actually thought it was really good. It was more engaging than I had anticipated, and I think it was a great way to increase discussion about a topic that's controversial and not the easiest to approach," she said. "They did a really good job generating a discussion and getting people involved, and I was truly surprised by the depth of conversation that was facilitated afterward."
Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, was among those to share his experience with the audience.
McRae said he came from a Family of 13 children, 11 of whom were adopted -- with most coming from dysfunctional backgrounds, which attributed to a lot of alcohol abuse in his Family.
He confessed to the audience that he had Family members whose lives were affected and ruined by alcohol abuse, including a brother who spent 10 years in prison because of it; another brother whose potential military career was ruined because of alcohol abuse; and a sister that he lost to alcohol poisoning.
He shared his experience because the Army has been at war for 12 years, and people look for ways to escape, he said.
"We've been in constant combat and we've asked a lot of folks to do a lot of courageous things, and because of the effects of war, we've had the highest suicide rates in years," said McRae. "A lot of people are trying to escape a painful thing, and alcohol and drugs are one of those means of escape."
It's programs like the alcohol awareness training and Outside the Wire productions that help combat that and educate people on awareness, and for that, McRae said he was grateful.