Alcohol Policy, Penalties Tightened

By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 15, 2006

The U.S. Naval Academy announced a tough policy yesterday establishing high blood-alcohol concentration as grounds for expelling midshipmen after recent cases tying excessive drinking to alleged sexual misconduct by Navy football players.

The rules, which were in development before incidents this year involving a Navy starting quarterback and backup linebacker, include specific guidelines and penalties linked to blood-alcohol concentration. Details of the policy, which continues the academy's random breathalyzer testing of midshipmen, were also highlighted in a letter hand-delivered by academy officials Wednesday to bars and restaurants in the Annapolis area.

The academy's alcohol policy is the strongest among the service academies. Neither the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., nor the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., conducts random breathalyzer tests on students or ties regulations to blood-alcohol concentration.

The policy, instituted Aug. 17, includes tables that enable midshipmen to estimate their blood-alcohol level based on body weight and gender. Random breathalyzer tests have been administered to midshipmen since 2004. But now there are penalties, ranging from mandatory counseling for first-time offenders with blood-alcohol concentrations from more than .08 to .15 to possible expulsion for midshipmen whose concentrations exceed .20.

The Naval Academy previously employed the secretary of the Navy's general policy governing alcohol use by all members of the service. Midshipmen of the legal drinking age of 21 who avoided trouble when they overindulged didn't face a conduct offense, officials said.

"It was: 'Be responsible -- and have a plan,' " said Cmdr. C.X. Kennedy, deputy for character programs, who oversees the academy's alcohol abuse prevention program.

The new policy involves a "memory aid" summed up by a series of numbers, 0-0-1-3: zero alcohol allowed for underage midshipmen; zero drinks when driving; no more than one "standard alcoholic drink per hour"; and three drinks "per occasion."

Academy officials said the policy acknowledges that midshipmen are not just college students but also junior officers in training. "They're training to be leaders," Kennedy said.

Yesterday's announcement came as the Naval Academy finished holding a four-day event that was described as the first joint working conference on alcohol abuse for the five service academies. The conference was convened in response to a recommendation by a Pentagon task force that investigated sexual improprieties at the naval and other military academies.

Among those attending the conference were students who said that alcohol abuse could affect the ability to serve the United States during wartime. "I don't want to go into combat alongside somebody who has little self-control," said West Point Cadet 1st Class Jennifer Lichty.

Students also voiced concern that high-profile misconduct cases have hurt the majority of cadets and midshipmen who have obeyed the rules.

In October, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, superintendent of the Naval Academy, convened a working group to devise the new policy. Months later, the academy was rocked by the cases involving alcohol use and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Rempt alluded to the bad publicity in the letter sent to bars and restaurants. In the letter, businesses are asked to admit the Navy shore patrol, which started operating again locally in August 2005, "to bring an obviously intoxicated midshipman back to the Academy."

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