MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
The station’s second annual senior leadership summit, held July 14 and 15, 2009, at the theater, covered current issues within the Marine Corps and gave leaders tools for taking care of their own.
The two-day summit, broken up into three sessions, included guest speakers from Headquarters Marine Corps, the local U.S. Marshals office, the Drug Enforcement Agency as well as the station’s drug demand reduction specialist and substance abuse counselors.
“This summit is designed to give you, not only the tools you need as you come up in the Marine Corps, but more importantly the ability to relate to your friends and family about these things,” said Lt. Col. Willis Price, station executive officer.
The first portion of the conference focused on alcohol and drug abuse in Yuma, as well as the rise in Corpswide suicides and combat operational stress-related issues.
The Marine Corps holds the highest alcohol abuse rates in the armed forces. According to a 2005 Department of Defense survey, 28 percent of the Marine Corps drinks heavily, which is categorized by five or more drinks per sitting at least once a week. These heavy drinkers caused an 8 percent productivity loss in the Corps and 14.5 percent of these Marines suffered serious consequences for their drinking.
“Alcohol abuse is a problem. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Take your peers and Marines and have a discussion with them,” said Ronnie Edwards, program analyst for the Marine Corps substance abuse program. “Don’t just give them the usual spiel during their safety briefs.”
More than 36,500 Marines have tested positive for drugs on urinalysis in the Corps since 1998, said Christopher Lee, station substance abuse counselor. In fiscal year 2009, there have been 3,472 urinalysis tests here and 12 have been positive. This is an increase from fiscal year 2008, when there were 4,224 tests and only seven positives.
“Sooner or later we will catch the drug users,” said Virgil Tapispisan, the station drug demand reduction coordinator. “Urinalysis isn’t to catch the bad Marines. It is to deter the good ones from doing (drugs).”
Another topic discussed during the first session of the summit was the effect of combat operational stress on Marines at work and at home.
The Marines who attended the summit were given tips for spotting the warning signs in fellow Marines suffering from combat operational stress and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Often times people who are experiencing stress will resort to abusing drugs or alcohol. These are not good ways to cope, said Ed Leardo, deputy combat operational stress control training coordinator from HQMC.
Suicide was another major topic discussed at the seminar.
With suicide rates the highest they’ve been in a decade Corpswide, it is important for leaders to be aware of the warning signs and know the Marines under their charge, said Edwards.
During the second session of the summit, station chaplain Lt. Shawn Osborne and Lee held an open forum to discuss mental health for dependents, and the services available to Marines’ families.
The summit was concluded by a visit from representatives from Yuma’s U.S. Marshals office, DEA and a local probation officer, who shared information about local gangs and the violence along the U.S./Mexico border.
“I think some of the most beneficial information I got from the summit was about local gang activity and prevalent drugs in the area,” said Sgt. Sean Sweeney, a Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron Marine who attended the summit. “Because of our close proximity to Mexico, meth and marijuana are some of the most common drugs found in Yuma.”
The next leadership summit is scheduled to be held in July 2010.