FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Underage drinking is a significant public health concern in the U.S., and the Fort Campbell Installation Provost Marshal Office, or PMO, is asking Soldiers and Families to do their part in preventing it as part of National Alcohol Awareness Month.
Law enforcement officials frequently deal with underage drinking on post, said Lt. Nicholas Pietila, traffic supervisor, traffic management and collision investigations division, PMO. That often means dealing with people driving under the influence, an issue PMO began a high-visibility prevention campaign against last month.
“What we find is that underage drinking depends on the demographic,” Pietila said. “When it comes to dependents on post, it’s not really an issue, but we deal with underage drinkers who are service members in that college-age demographic, probably weekly.”
Alcohol abuse often leads to aggression and high-risk behaviors, but Pietila said those below drinking age can be more susceptible.
“You have your standard health effects, and then you also have the effects on behavior,” he said. “Being that a lot of times, younger people don’t have the maturity that older individuals who are of the legal age do, you run into everything from destruction of property to different sexual assault issues and all the other things that can occur as a result of poor decision-making.”
Soldiers charged with underage drinking under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, can face punishment depending on the crime’s severity or frequency. In the most severe cases that could mean being court-martialed or removed from the Army.
Families involved with underage drinking also can be made to appear before a judge, whether on or off post. And in most cases, there are multiple people involved.
“The reality is, it’s pretty tough to do underage drinking by yourself,” Pietila said. “You have to have some sort of an enabler. It’s a lot harder to fake an ID than it was 10-20 years ago because there are a lot more verification functions, so for the most part you’ve got a situation where somebody knowingly buys alcohol for someone who is underage.”
PMO does see Soldiers attempt to modify their ID cards, but Pietila said those occasions are rare in their detection process. It’s far more likely that someone of legal age is behind the purchase.
“The most important thing is awareness and understanding that the person who’s encouraging underage drinking is also committing a crime,” he said. “And they can be written a citation or face UCMJ action for the same thing, and it has potentially higher consequences because of the enabling.”
Awareness is key when it comes to prevention, Pietila said. He encourages the community to stay mindful of the risks associated with underage drinking to promote a safer community for Soldiers and Families.
“Alcohol’s a gateway drug, in reality,” he said. “There are other substances that get accused of being gateway drugs, but alcohol is clearly one, and the earlier people start consuming alcohol the more likely they are to continue and have longer-lasting health effects later in life.”