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21 means 21: Bad decisions make for bad beginnings in the Corps

By Cpl. Megan Angel | | October 27, 2007


Newsflash: The minimum legal age to consume alcohol in the United States -- to include the Marine Corps -- is 21. Actually, this isn’t news, it’s a reminder.

Drinking or possessing alcohol under the age of 21, or providing alcohol to a minor, is against state laws as well as a direct violation of Marine Corps Order 1700.22E. Yet, it happens and some Marines get caught and some get lucky -- because they haven’t been caught.

As the commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, it’s one of Lt. Col. Kenneth Woodard’s responsibilities to hold Marines accountable for their actions.

“I have attempted to be consistent and fair in my handling of alcohol-related incidents,” said Woodard. “The outcome can certainly be tough.”

For military personnel, MCO 1700.22E is a lawful, general order and may result in disciplinary action for a violation of Article 92 (Failure to obey order or regulation) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, said Capt. Jennifer Parker, station military justice officer.

The maximum punishment for an Article 92 violation is a Dishonorable Discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for two years.

Many Marines under the age of 21 most likely joined the Corps right out of high school, but it’s at boot camp where Marines are educated about the orders and standards set by the Corps -- regardless of age or rank.

“I want to stress to Marines that thinking through a situation and making smart decisions before drinking alcohol is the best way to keep a clean record,” Woodard said. “Additionally, getting caught drinking or possessing alcohol before you are 21 is a bad way to start off your time in the Marine Corps.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2006 Annual Assessment of Motor Vehicle Crashes, motor vehicle accidents continue to remain the number one cause of death among young people ages 15-20; 7,460 deaths total. Twenty-eight percent of those drivers who were killed had been drinking.

Also, according to the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned for Fiscal Year 2006, 35 percent of all privately owned vehicle deaths were because of drinking and driving.

“Whether it’s getting behind the wheel of a car after too much to drink, drinking before you have reached the legal age or getting drunk and doing something that you later regret, when you are on the wrong side of the law with alcohol, you are never in a good situation,” said Woodard.

Although the legal blood alcohol limit for operating a vehicle is .08 percent, zero tolerance laws state that people under the age of 21 can be apprehended if even the smallest amount of alcohol is detected, said Capt. Larry Vines, station provost marshal.

As for the ‘providers,’ anyone who supplies somebody who’s under 21 with alcohol, can be held liable and face punitive action as well.

“Even if you’re 21 and are with somebody who’s under 21 and been drinking, it’s contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” said Vines.

Needless to say, in order for somebody who’s underage to drink, somebody has to be providing them with the alcohol -- illegally. Whether it’s a store clerk not doing their job by verifying age or somebody who’s 21 purchasing the alcohol, they are all in the wrong and if caught, are subject to the consequences.

“The law and the Marine Corps says the drinking age is 21, period,” said Vines.

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