Dry and getting dryer

By lex, on September 15th, 2006

Unlike the Brits, and other, more civilized services, ours is a “dry navy” while at sea – no drinking. Our tee-totaling Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels shut down the officer’s wine messes in 1914, and from that point on it’s been bottles over the side and “farewell to all that.” We even named a ship after him, if you can believe it.

Coincidentally or not, it’s by no means unheard of for people who are apparently trying to make up for lost time while at sea to get themselves in trouble their first night ashore by engaging in excessively hard partying. These incidents have occasionally been a source of embarrassment to the service, and sometimes also to the country. It’s been a subject of some discussion over the years whether it wouldn’t make more sense to serve a couple beers per night to those who choose to drink, are of legal age and who aren’t going to be on watch afterwards. That’s the way the Royal Navy treats its folks and taken as a whole, they seem to behave themselves rather well once ashore.

Being able to have a beer at the end of the work shift undoubtedly takes some of the glamor and novelty out of it while also serving to keep the steam valve open a trickle. But for us, it’s all just talk at the wardroom table. Apart from the monotony-breaking two beers served at solitary “Beer Days” to sailors on ships that have been on the line for more than 45 days at a time, the service stays dry until the service goes ashore. At which point some number among them will probably get very wet indeed. There’s a reason why no one likes to stand the quarterdeck watch on the first night in port.

You: But what’s all that got to do with the Naval Academy, Lex?

Me: I was just getting to that, gentle reader.

From the Baltimore Sun: **

In a sweeping effort to stamp out sexual assaults and other problems stemming from alcohol abuse at the U.S. Naval Academy, school officials announced yesterday that they will use Breathalyzer tests and the threat of expulsion to force midshipmen – even those 21 and over – to curtail their drinking.

The enforcement tactics, which put the Naval Academy at the forefront of the “zero tolerance” movement at colleges nationwide, tolerate no underage drinking or driving under the influence of alcohol…

Academy officials will give random breath tests to hundreds of students on weekends. Those who fail will be referred to the school’s substance abuse counseling program. Second-time offenders and those with blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 percent or higher will be disciplined through the academy’s conduct system. Punishments will include restriction to the dormitory, 5 a.m. marches and expulsion.

It’s never been a mid-atlantic UT-Austin * , but I have to admit that this seems a bit medieval to this old head. The place was always a pressure cooker, and some of us made it through the week saved only by thoughts of the upcoming weekend and a chance to blow off a little steam at Timmy’s with pitchers of cheap beer and slices of bad pizza. We couldn’t have cars until we were seniors, so there was no concern about drunk driving.

Being a sort of college, and the mids being of college age, some folks over-did, but that seemed to me a part of growing up, discovering limits, and it was at least a very controlled environment. Some of them really over-did, and ended up getting to meet the Commandant – in person! Although I had the opportunity to meet the man a couple of times, and earn two of his Black “N’s”, neither one of them were alcohol related. But a lot of the folks I worked off my punishments with got there the old fashioned way.

And at least back then, no one had to administer random Breathalyzers to 21-year olds to figure out who was over the line. You could sort of tell.

I know the administration has got to be fed up with all of these incidents they’ve been having, and all of the hideously bad press that goes with them. I’m just not sure that this is the right answer since I’m very much afraid this will only serve to kick the can down the road.

Young mids become young ensigns and second lieutenants, who will go out on their own in new towns to discover new things. Some of them are now going to discover in an uncontrolled environment just what it means to drink too much. Not all of them are going to make it through the discovery process and they might take others with them. That’ll be bad press too.

I suppose the fact that the country respects and trusts the military as an institution is a part of the reason why we hold even our youngest midshipmen to a much higher expectation set, at least as compared to their peers in colleges and universities across the country. But unless that’s to be a one-way obligation – one in other words, only flowing up from the mids to the school – in return we ought to give a little “special trust and confidence” back to them. Or we should at least until individuals prove to us that our confidence has been misplaced, at which time those individuals get punished.

It seems to me that, just as you can’t “inspect” quality into an organization, neither can you “Breathalyze” your way to integrity and excellence. You get from people what you expect of them.

If we play cops, we should not be surprised if they in turn play robbers.

* 07-16-2018 Links Gone; no replacements found – Ed.

** 07-16-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Carriers, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, USNA

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