JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Unfortunately, military personnel are not exempt from harmful social behaviors such as underage drinking, sexual assault, alcoholism, drinking and driving and other crimes. Reducing the Air Force's crime rate and helping individuals overcome harmful vices is the Air Force's goal, and a recent grant given to Joint Base Charleston will be a positive step in the right direction.
The $600,000 grant, utilized over the course of three-years, will help educate Team Charleston members on making positive choices and promote Comprehensive Airmen Fitness across the installation.
"This year, only three other Air Force installations received approval for this grant," said Senior Master Sgt. Michelle McMeekin, 628th Force Support Squadron career assistance adviser. "We feel very privileged to be one of the chosen bases."
The grant will provide resources to Team Charleston personnel to address alcohol problems both as an on- and off-base community issue. JB Charleston personnel are scheduled to partner with key community organizations, such as local law enforcement and drug abuse commissions, to collaborate on policies, enforcement and educational efforts that will make measureable reductions in underage drinking and alcohol related mishaps.
According to the National Institute of Health website, heavy alcohol use is a significant problem in the military. Personnel often use alcohol in an attempt to cope with stress, boredom, loneliness and the lack of other recreational activities. The easy availability of alcohol, ritualized drinking opportunities and inconsistent policies contribute to a work culture that facilitates heavy and binge drinking in this population.
Another concern is sexual assault. According to Pentagon statistics, 19,000 sexual assaults occur in the military each year, with only 3,200 being reported. The grant will aid in educating the base populace in hopes of preventing sexual assaults at JB Charleston.
"The focus of the grant is to prevent underage drinking," said McMeekin. "Naturally, if we are able to decrease the number of alcohol-related incidents, a positive side-affect could certainly be a decrease in sexual assaults due to alcohol being involved in the majority of reported sexual assault cases."
During the first year of using the grant, plans will include improvement in areas such as coalition development, base policies, DUI enforcement, retail alcohol enforcement and social alcohol restrictions.
In the remaining two years of using the grant, plans will include developing a base and community alcohol harm prevention coalition, instituting an on-base policy about low risk drinking that would include no underage drinking, increasing enforcement around alcohol establishments known to sell to underage military personnel and DUI enforcement around the base.
According to McMeekin, another rewarding aspect of the grant approval at JB Charleston is the aspect of joint basing.
"The grant was originally directed for Air Force and Marine installations," said McMeekin. "However, we have a unique opportunity here to affect so many more service members because we're a joint base. This will provide some challenges for the committee, as we raise the question to push the parameters to include our Navy counterparts and other tenant units assigned to JB Charleston, but it's the goal of senior leadership across the base to make this as much of a "joint" endeavor as possible, regardless of the color of the uniform."
McMeekin is positive about JB Charleston's future and the future of the service members on the base.
"The exciting thing about this grant is that we have the potential to see positive results of the endeavors and events we plan across the base, without limitation to age or rank," said McMeekin. "We will focus on education and offer alcohol-free activities and help Team Charleston personnel protect their future by making responsible choices."