Drinking too much alcohol is like allowing a foreign object to damage an aircraft’s flight capability.
This concept, among others, is at the center of a budding program on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station aiming to eliminate Navy DUIs by teaching responsible behavior in the language of combat.
The program is named for the “White Jersey” position on an aircraft carrier, a sailor whose job it is to ensure that all flight crew members are on the safe side of the foul line, which marks the edge of the flight path.
In this vein, a sailor is assigned to accompany a group from his or her squadron when they go out for drinks. The White Jersey’s job is to ensure that his fellow sailors are kept out of trouble and transported safety back to base.
“Party, then go home like a celebrated squadron,” the program’s training materials say.
“What’s unique about this program is that we’ve used the terminology of the aviation community,” said NAS Whidbey Command Chaplain Lt. Tim Loney. “In military terms, we always want to empower them to perform the mission.
On the human side, DUIs are counterproductive to the operation.”
The program outline makes it clear that a White Jersey is not the same as a designated driver. A White Jersey does much more than that, monitoring behavior for risk factors and providing peer counseling.
In addition to targeting DUIs, the program aims to eliminate other alcohol-related incidents such as fighting and sexual assault.
Loney said research shows that nearly 100 percent of active-duty military sexual assault involves alcohol.
The idea is that the program would create an environment where sailors “have each other’s back” in a drinking situating in the same way they would on mission.
While a DUI can have dire consequences for anyone, legally and financially, a sailor has the added repercussions of military discipline.
Loney said that a DUI is not necessarily grounds for immediate discharge depending on the circumstances, but at minimum it can have a long-term career impact in the Navy of today. A second DUI, however, would mean immediate discharge and the loss of retirement benefits in some cases, according to the Navy’s official website.
If a sailor or officer is arrested for any reason, Navy law “requires all Navy personnel to self-report criminal arrests and charges.” Failure to do so is considered a failure “to obey a lawful general order” and could be grounds for discharge as well.
Rick Norrie, law enforcement liaison for the Island County Sheriff’s Department, said that the program “all sounds good.”
Unfortunately, he said, we still have a “huge problem.”
Norrie said the department has not really seen any marked changes in recent years of Navy drinking and driving behavior. However, he has seen evidence of commands providing rides to sailors who have had a little too much.
However, just last weekend, Norrie reported that he was almost rear-ended by a Navy intelligence specialist not stationed at NAS Whidbey who blew a .16 at around 5 a.m.
According to White Jersey training materials, a blood alcohol content of .15 percent looks like this: Subject “may walk backward when going forward, may vomit, may fall off bar stool, is unable to get shot glass into beer, makes it into a YouTube video, believes the solution to three friends consuming all eight six-packs in two hours is another beer run.”
While the effort was conceived last September, Loney and his team are just starting to roll out training on the program, and how it will be distributed to commands that wish to participate.
So will sailors really plan ahead and self police as a result of the program?
“It is our hope that is what is going to happen,” Loney said.
“But it’s gonna take a while.”