NORFOLK--Breathalyzer tests for alcohol abuse are about to become a permanent part of life in the Navy.
In guidance issued today to commanding officers, officers in charge and command master chiefs, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet have directed that hand-held alcohol detection devices will be issued and used Navy-wide.
'As leaders, we must focus our efforts on reducing the irresponsible us of alcohol by our service members,' stated an unclassified communication from Fleet Forces Admiral William Gortney and Pacific Fleet Admiral Cecil Haney, obtained by 13News.
The document went on to say that 'Service members who drink excessively or late into the night and report for duty under the influence of alcohol place themselves, their shipmates and our equipment at risk. This is unacceptable.'
Over 100 days last year, Fleet Forces conducted 7,496 pilot tests of the breathalyzer program at 13 sea and shore commands. Seventeen test subjects, or 0.2 percent of the overall sample, came back with a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher, which is the legal limit for drunk driving in Virginia.
Distribution of the alcohol detection devices will begin on February fourth, and the Navy has set a target date of May 24, 2013 to achieve full implementation of the new program.
The Navy insists the testing is a non-punitive tool, designed for education and awareness, to 'assist with identifying service members who may require support and assistance with alcohol use decisions.'
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens said as much to 13News in an interview last summer, when he served as Force Master Chief of Fleet Forces Command.
Stevens said: 'We don't suspect that our sailors are coming across the brow inebriated. We know that by and large, the majority of our sailors are coming to work and their minds are sharp and they're ready to go an execute mission. But what we want to do or those very few sailors that may have a substance issue, we want to provide them an opportunity to be aware of that and then, most importantly, provide the training to help them get through that,' said Stevens.
The overall effort dates back to the 21st Century Sailor and Marine Initiative, designed to encourage healthier lifestyle choices, announced last March in Norfolk by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. 'Sailors and Marines have to have the ability to avoid career altering, career ending, or life threatening or life ending incidents,' said Mabus.