JOINT BASE CHARLESTON S.C. –
How do you take the third worst state in the country for the number of traffic fatalities that are drunk driving related and turn it around? How do you address an increasing number of underage drinking incidents and DUIs on Joint Base Charleston? Two years ago when Joint Base Charleston leadership asked these very questions, it got its answer--Project STAR (Safety Through Alcohol Responsibility).
Project STAR is a program involving members from the Air Base, Weapons Station and the local community who have come together and started creating strategies on how to reduce the number of underage alcohol related incidents and DUIs in the community and on Joint Base Charleston.
"The goal is awareness, safety and reduction by finding alcohol-free alternative activities Airmen and Sailors can participate in as well as creating, strengthening, and implementing policies that can help, including awareness with the local businesses and the community," said Shari Harrison, Local Project Coordinator for Project STAR. "Project STAR Task Groups have updated and strengthened the DUI Battle Plan and have created an Off-Limits Policy that would apply to local retailers who continue to sell alcoholic beverages to underage personnel."
Both of these policies will help to reduce DUI's and first-time alcohol-related incidents.
Alcohol-free alternative activities have included events such as the "Awesome Obstacle Course", the Paintball Challenge, the Reindeer Run, and the recent Run or Dye event. Hundreds of Airmen and Sailors have participated in these events, which include competitions, prizes, and food. During the upcoming year, at least two Project STAR alternative activities are being planned for each quarter. Members of Project STAR have found that planning those alternative activities not involving alcohol is one of the largest contributions to their success
State Project Manager Terecia Wilson stated, "Project STAR is a collaborative effort that involves many community partners working on all the various Project STAR Task Groups with Joint Base Charleston personnel. Partners include representatives from MUSC; local colleges and universities with large underage populations; The Charleston Center and The E.K. Kennedy Center, which are the local alcohol and drug abuse commissions; transportation partners from the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, Tri-County Link and CARTA; and the 9th Circuit Alcohol Enforcement Team, which includes numerous local law enforcement agencies, solicitors, and judges."
Joint Base Charleston is the first joint base to ever receive money from the Military Discretionary Grant Program, which funds the project. Through an agreement with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Air Force, Project STAR was awarded $624,310 on a three-year time line to find long-term solutions to alcohol-related drinking problems.
According to Harrison, "There is a need to focus attention on this problem through a comprehensive community approach, using evidence-based strategies and countermeasures."
The last two years have been full of challenges, whether personnel turn-over or trying to find common ground between branches of the military and community members.
"One of our biggest challenges is on the logistics side of the house--getting members living off base to participate in activities here on base, and getting those single Airmen and Sailors that don't have cars, out to the planned events," said Harrison.
Since many young Sailors on the Weapons Station are attending school, a large number of them don't have vehicles. Tri-County Link, the local public transit agency that serves Berkeley County, stepped up to the plate and joined Project STAR in a pilot transportation initiative, starting a new route that runs on the weekends from the Weapons Station to Northwoods Mall, providing Sailors with transportation off-base. At the mall, sailors can connect with the CARTA buses that go to downtown Charleston. Once in the downtown area, sailors can ride local shuttles at no cost.
"We are saving them a lot of money in taxi fees--the shuttle only costs $11.75 round trip to downtown Charleston compared to $60 or $80 they could be spending on taxis one-way." Harrison said.
"Teamwork around the base and local community members, to include local law enforcement agencies, help with things like DUI checkpoints," said Terecia Wilson, the state project manager for Project STAR. "DUI checkpoints serve as a deterrent to those who chose to put others at risk by drinking and driving. DUI checkpoints are a proven, evidence-based strategy to reduce DUI's. Under the Work Plan for Project STAR, DUI checkpoints will be conducted periodically on both sides of Joint Base Charleston and in a target area surrounding Joint Base Charleston."
Besides sponsoring alcohol-free alternative activities,, the grant money has been used to purchase equipment such as "drunk goggles" and go-karts to assist the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program in raising awareness on base of how alcohol impairs the ability to safely operate a vehicle. Project STAR has also purchased Passive Alcohol Sensors, flashlights with alcohol sensors on them, to assist with the local DUI checkpoints, as well as for use when checking ID's at the gates, and during dorm/barracks patrols.
Project STAR is based on the use of evidence-based, proven strategies that when fully implemented can be effective in reducing first-time alcohol-related incidents among underage military personnel, as well as reducing their involvement (and those who are of-age) in DUI-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Grant requirements included conducting a comprehensive Needs and Resources Assessment to determine the extent of the underage drinking problem on Joint Base Charleston and the development of a detailed Work Plan that would address the findings of the Needs Assessment. Eight Task Groups were formed to create individual Work Plans for various Project STAR strategies, such as coalition development, compliance checks, additional enforcement, local policy development, DUI checkpoints, alternative activities and other environmental strategies to name a few.
"With all the money invested in these young men and women, and certainly the tremendous need for what they do, they need to be at 100 percent." said Wilson. "If you have been binge drinking over the weekend then you can't be at your best. Everything in this project is designed to encourage responsible choices so that you can have a great career in the military."