Joseph A. Califano, Jr. , Chairman and President of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University once said, “A child who reaches age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs is virtually certain never to do so. ” “Damn! ”, I thought to myself as I rolled over and looked at the clock on the nightstand upon hearing my phone ringing at exactly 1:35 in the morning.
I instantly new and felt something was wrong. “May I speak with First Sergeant Foy please? ” growled the man with the husky voice on the other side of the phone line. “First Sergeant, this is Sergeant Miller of the Military Police station here at Fort Campbell. I have three of your soldiers here that are being charged with underage drinking and public intoxication. Can you please have a Sergeant First Class or higher here to sign for the soldiers? ” “Yeah”, I barked into the phone. “I will be there shortly. ” I hang up the phone without asking who the three soldiers were.
Traveling back on base to Fort Campbell, my mind was racing back and forth between who the three soldiers were and what I would do to them as punishment when I arrive. Upon arrival at the military police station, there sat handcuffed Private First Class Lees, Private First Class Pierre and Private First Class Beck. All three, upon seeing my arrival, looked to the ground. Looking at them reminded me of the look my son gives me every time he does something wrong.
Without a word, I signed for the three soldiers and called up their respective Platoon Sergeants, at least now knowing for sure they are already awake by that time, at 03:00 in the morning. I commanded the soldiers to stay at the barracks for the rest of the four-day weekend and be ready to see me at 09:30 AM after their first day back. The following Tuesday, the soldiers were then read their Miranda rights and are given a packet that they will have to take a lawyer to look. After which, they were given their corresponding punishments known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Punishments range from taking the rank from the soldiers, which we call a bust, and/or restriction to the post, and/or imposing extra duty, and/or taking monetary amount from the soldiers. These are, of course, up to the Commander of the unit. I, being a First Sergeant, am the right hand and senior advisor to the Commander of the company. Usually, whatever the First Sergeant and Commander agree upon will ultimately be the punishment of the soldiers. The following month, all three soldiers were given suspended busts, forfeiture of 300 dollars for one month, extra duties and restriction for seven days.
One of the soldiers asked during his time with the Commander, “If I can vote, go to Iraq next month with my unit, serve my country with honor, combat terrorism and even give my life for my country at eighteen, then why can’t I have a drink or two with my friends before I leave? ” Seven days later, we deployed to Iraq. The reason that I narrated this story first is simply to recognize the fact that underage drinking has become a problem in the United States of America and even in the Military.
In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated, “By the time they reach the eighth grade, nearly 50 percent of adolescents have had at least one drink, and over 20 percent report having been drunk. Among 12th graders, almost 30 percent report drinking on three or more occasions per month. Approximately 30 percent of 12th graders engage in heavy drinking or binge drinking, that is having at least five or more drinks on one occasion within the past 2 weeks, and it is estimated that 20 percent do so on more than one occasion” (“National Institute”, 2003).
These percentages are astounding whenever I think about everything else that goes along with underage drinking such as drunk driving, sexual misconduct and even death. But, as I contemplate on this serious social and health issue, I cannot help but think to myself the experiences I had with regard to underage drinking. At the time when I was still a minor, I remembered knocking a few beers with my guy friends at our football team’s victory party. I knew back then that doing these things were largely for the purpose of being able to ‘fit in’.
I believe it would be pretty accurate to say that peer pressure, especially today, is indeed one of the main reasons why teens indulge in underage drinking. According to Wikipedia (2008), “Peer pressure is a term describing the pressure exerted by a peer or group in encouraging a person to change their attitude, behavior and/or morals to conform to, for example, the group’s actions, fashion sense, taste in music and television, or outlook on life (“Peer”, 2008) In my opinion, peer pressure is the most dangerous “weapon” used against teens today.
Knowing that teenagers nowadays are too gullible or susceptible to society or friends’ influences, for me, peer pressure may indeed be considered a dangerous weapon used, though obliquely, by teens. It is very possible that what parents teach their children throughout from their childhood to teenage years are easily swayed and distorted by influential friends overnight. According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (2008), underage drinking is estimated to account for between 12 percent and 20 percent of the United States alcohol market.
It also states that more youth in the United States drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or marijuana, making it the drug most used by American young people” (“The Center”, 2008). Tallying that up, it would take millions and millions of dollars that teenagers spend on alcohol, just to fit in or have to face the consequences of becoming a full blown alcoholic at an early age or even later on into adulthood. Teenagers must be made aware of the long term effects of alcohol use.
Dependence on alcohol has also been linked to depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, antisocial personality disorder and other psychological problems, some more severe then the ones mentioned. Some way, we have to get it through to them that drinking alcohol can and in most cases will lead to harder drugs. It is considered a responsibility of the society to protect the welfare of its adolescent members. Communities as a whole must come together to help prevent the use of alcohol in our teens today. And this must be a concerted effort to work effectively.
Parents have to look for signs of underage drinking actively. Look for signs like mood swings, sudden problems in school such as poor attendance, sudden disobedience of family rules, hanging out with a new group of friends that they do not want for you to meet, low energy and a lack of interest in activities, smelling alcohol on your kids breath or just any behavior that is not in the norm for your child. Take action immediately. Communication is a good means. Let them know the long term effects of alcohol dependency and make them feel they are not hopeless.
If children can see their parents drinking, there is also a great tendency for the former to do the same. Therefore, parents must be warily responsible. Growing Kids’ (2007) article stated, “It is much better to show your children how to expect them to behave, rather than merely telling them. ” Together as a whole community we can make a difference (“Growing Kids”, 2007). In the story I have narrated, the young soldiers, no matter how disciplined they are supposed to be, will still go through the ‘need’ to engage in drinking. At times, I think, who am I to prevent them from doing what they want?
But thinking of the perilous effects of underage drinking makes me feel responsible for these soldiers. I have a role to play in their lives. The fact that I am of authority to them issues me the ‘privilege’ to teach them what is bad and swerve from such. The fact that the three soldiers were caught and put in military police custody already proposes a significant presence of alcohol influence even in teens who are supposed to be extremely disciplined and guarded. How much more those people who are freely able to decide for themselves without supervision of people in authority?
The fact that sever military punishments, even if they were aware of it, did not stop them from consuming alcohol only shows the possibility for them not to care about the penalty or retribution that they will get. Are teenagers nowadays becoming less and less wary just to have fun and drink? Parents are not the only ones responsible for these young adults. We, too, are. If we would not do something for these kids, who will? Besides, it is the future generation that will be affected, and we would not want that to happen.