Drug and alcohol abuse is by no means an Old Guard or even an Army problem, but only a reflection of a worldwide health issue, said George A. Suber, the Prevention Education Coordinator for Joint Base Myer Henderson-Hall (JBMHH).
Suber signed up for the Air Force in 1981, and he said he has seen an evolution of the military’s culture concerning alcohol for the better.
Since coming to JBM-HH in 2009, Suber has seen a change in JBM-HH’s relationship with alcohol as well.
Old Guard Soldiers are vetted before acceptance into the Army’s premier ceremonial unit, and Soldiers with past transgressions are not allowed entry.
But even with this due diligence, The Old Guard does its best to ensure its Soldiers are ready to handle the pressures of a large metropolitan area like the National Capital Region.
“They go out of their way to talk to soldiers that they think are having a problem,” said Dr. Terry Bates, Clinical Director of JBM-HH ASAP. “They plan social activities for them, to draw them out.”
“I think they do an tremendous job supporting their Soldiers,” said Bates.
Bates said their efforts to help Soldiers are totally supported by The Old Guard’s leadership. “There’s not a commander or a first sergeant that I could call that I would say ‘I think XYZ has a problem’ that they would not consider it,” she said.
The Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) is a variety of programs that emphasize readiness and personal responsibility.
“It’s a supportive program,” said Bates. “It is not a program that’s disciplinary. Its not adverse.”
The Joint Base Myer Henderson-Hall (JBMHH) ASAP office serves The Old Guard and the Pentagon.
The program achieves this goal by educating, raising awareness, and intervening with Soldiers to eliminate alcohol and drug abuse.
“I think its more of a choice than anything,” said Suber. “We can lay everything out there and tell you why you shouldn’t do it, but again, you have to make that choice.”
Suber said his primary job is to educate units in alcohol abuse prevention.
The importance of education is instilling in a Soldier early in their assignment at The Old Guard the tools to discern what situations or behaviors will lead to problems.
Instruction begins with the JBM-HH Start Right program, an orientation all new Old Guard Soldiers attend.
“Tools that you may put in your tool bag that you won’t use today, but you may use at a later time,” said Suber. “If you have the tool, then you’ll recognize, ‘Hey, I have a tool that will help me get beyond this.’”
These tools include teaching Soldiers to think about consequences and imagine “what-if” scenarios when going through their decision making process, said Suber.
Soldiers by regulation (600-85) must have fours hours of yearly substance abuse training, said Suber.
This training can range from PowerPoint presentations, guest speakers, and handouts.
“I look at things that are current in our American Society,” said Suber. “I look at things such as what is the prevalent drug that people are using in this particular area?”
Units will nominate a Soldier to become their subject matter expert on drug and alcohol abuse. This Unit Prevention Leader (UPL) takes a 40-hour course to be certified.
The UPL will conduct training and collect samples when the unit implements a urinalysis.
In addition to prevention training at the unit level, the Army also has Awareness campaigns, like Alcohol Awareness Month, October’s Red Ribbon Campaign, or 101 Critical Day of Summer. These campaigns are designed for UPLs and Prevention Coordinators to talk to soldiers about good habits with prescription drugs and alcohol and abstinence from illegal drugs.
Other programs like the National Take-back are Coordinated through the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Scheduled for April 29, 2016 on JBMHH, the National Take-back will accept unwanted or unused prescription drugs at the Commissary.
This is all part of a strategy to help Soldiers avoid high-risk behaviors before they escalate into something more serious.
Suber meets with the Battalion Prevention Leaders (BPL) every month letting them know what he’s seeing, and what should be targeted by the UPLs, he said.
Suber said ASAP helps push awareness of warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse among Soldiers so a Soldier’s battle buddies become another safeguard.
“I think they are successful,” said Suber. “The Army has been aggressive pumping in money and effort into helping Soldiers that are identified as getting the help that they need.”
It would never hurt a Soldier’s career to seek help if they feel they are having a problem with alcohol, said Bates.
“Its up to the commander whether they want to flag them or not,” said Bates. “Always supportive.”
Soldiers that are abusing alcohol are doing so as a coping strategy, said Bates.
Whether it is because of isolation from being away from home or whatever the catalyst, alcohol is employed to help reduce feelings of anxiety, said Bates.
Most often times a Soldier that is abusing substances is not aware of the problem, and its only after something systematic of a substance abuse problem like getting arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, a fight, or domestic violence does it become apparent, said Suber.
“Sometimes it is just a mere placement of education,” said Suber. “Helping people to realize they made a high-risk choice,”
ASAP is in part designed to give Soldiers tools or to redirect behaviors that are in the norm, said Suber.