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Alcohol, safety, summertime and you

“Common Sense Lucha” helps an Airman make good choices while enjoying the summer sun at Kadena Air Base's Hagerstrom Pool, June 18, 2015. Alcohol numbs the senses and reduces reaction time, a combination which significantly increases the risk of drowning. If you plan to drink around water, be sure to practice personal risk management and always have a wingman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zade C. Vadnais)

“Common Sense Lucha” helps an Airman make good choices while enjoying the summer sun at Kadena Air Base's Hagerstrom Pool, June 18, 2015. Alcohol numbs the senses and reduces reaction time, a combination which significantly increases the risk of drowning. If you plan to drink around water, be sure to practice personal risk management and always have a wingman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zade C. Vadnais)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Summertime on Okinawa is the perfect time for all of your favorite outdoor activities. There are countless campsites, just as many hiking trails and if you walk in one direction for long enough you are guaranteed to end up at a beach.

This summer on Okinawa is different for Status of Forces Agreement personnel because it is the first summer in about two years that U.S. service members can drink alcohol freely off base. While having a few drinks with friends at the beach or around a campfire is an exciting prospect for many, you must remember to enjoy your time on Okinawa safely.

Roger Hoffmann, 18th Wing Safety ground safety manager, said water safety is the biggest risk for Airmen and their families on Okinawa, and most water-related accidents occur when someone is scuba diving, snorkeling or swimming by themselves.

"When you introduce alcohol, you also have a dehydration problem," said Hoffmann. "People think 'I'm drinking so I should be hydrated' but in reality, they're losing more water than they're taking in."

The American Safety Council advises against drinking on an empty stomach, and urges drinkers to alternate alcoholic beverages with water. This becomes especially important in subtropical environments like Okinawa, which can quickly dehydrate anyone outside, even without alcohol consumption.

Alcohol also affects judgment and coordination, which often leads to reckless behavior and increases the chances of hurting one's self or others in addition to increasing the chances of getting in trouble with security forces personnel or Japanese police.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Marshik, 18th Security Forces Squadron police services craftsman, said alcohol-related incidents as simple as disturbing the peace have the potential to chip away at the relationship between the U.S. service members on Okinawa and the local residents, which is why they are taken so seriously.

"We have to remember that we're ambassadors for the U.S. and our organizations," said Marshik. "We should be trying to establish good relationships, not hindering the mission and jeopardizing the bond between Japan and the U.S."

Two ways to minimize safety risks are to practice personal risk management and always have a wingman according to Hoffmann. Looking at what you plan to do, analyzing the potential risks associated with that activity and determining how to mitigate those risks will keep you safe in almost any situation.

Wingmen become especially important when alcohol is involved.

"If you had a party at your house, you'd make sure everyone got home safely," said Hoffmann. "It's the same thing at the beach; you want to take care of each other by having plenty of water or sports drinks available and keeping an eye on everybody."

Whether you find yourself having a few drinks at a friend's house, indulging in a pina colada on the beach or enjoying a day in the sun without alcohol, applying personal risk management and always having a wingman can keep you safe all summer long.