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Drinking abroad: celebrate responsibly

Impaired Driving Graphic (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Naoko Shimoji)

Impaired Driving Graphic (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Naoko Shimoji)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- It's no secret, the holiday season is a time for celebration.

With longer weekends, some people come together to rejoice in their religious practices, some enjoy spending extra time with their families and some also celebrate responsibly with a couple of adult beverages.

When drinking abroad, it is important to become familiar with the laws of the host nation, especially on Okinawa, where many alcohol related laws are much stricter than they are in the States.

"With off-base events, you enter another kind of world. You begin affecting interoperability and our relations with our host nation," said Capt. Michael Chen, 18th Wing Judge Advocate chief of civil law. "It's about trust; I mean, if the locals can't trust us to be outstanding Airmen, it's going to affect our ability to work with them in the future."

In Japan, driving with a blood alcohol content of .03% will result in an automatic DUI offense. A blood alcohol level of .03 can be attained by just one drink.

If a driver were to be off-base and intoxicated behind the wheel and pulled over by Japanese police, it would result in not only a DUI for the driver, but the passengers in the vehicle may be charged with a DUI as well.

"Beyond affecting our host nation and our ability to work together, you have to think about how it's going to affect you as an Airman," said Chen. "You could see your license being suspended, or a quality force measure like an LOC or an LOR, and now with it being taken so seriously it could result in an Article 15."

To help decrease occurrences of alcohol related incidents, the 18th Security Forces Squadron has several methods to deter and dissuade any would-be drunk drivers from coming on or leaving base.

"We're very effective at detection and deterrence, especially because we're allowed to have command directed checkpoints," said Tech. Sgt. Teddy Poole, 18th SFS NCO in charge of police services. "You never know exactly where a checkpoint is going to be."

When a DUI does occur, security forces will section off the car and conduct a field sobriety test upon the subject. If the driver fails the field sobriety test, they'll be taken to the security forces building and detained. The driver will then be submitted to a test to get a precise percentage of alcohol content in the blood.

If the blood alcohol content is at a DUI or a DWI level, security forces will advise the person of their rights under Article 111 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and allow them to either tell their side of the story or request a lawyer, after which they begin processing. Processing includes a DNA swab and fingerprinting. After the paperwork has been filled out, security forces will call the member's first sergeant to step in.

Thankfully, it's easy to avoid a DUI offense, as long as you have a plan before going out. Even if the plan falls through, there are many services available  all over the island that are able to take you home such as taxis and Airmen Against Drunk Driving (098-961-2233), who provide a ride to any DoD ID card holder in need of help.

"There's a great slogan going on with the Marines and the Navy right now, 'protect what you've earned.' I think that's something to remember, that you've earned it to be here, but it's still a privilege and you have to protect it," said Chen.

Drinking responsibly is not just something that protects careers, it protects lives: the lives of friends, the lives of families and the only life you have. Protect what matters as the year ends and celebrate the new one responsibly.