Cpl. Steven Jorgensen, a squad leader for Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, turns onto a cross road as he drives in snow on the vehicle simulator the Save a Life Tour takes with them to show participants why drinking then driving is a bad idea at the Sunset Cinema Oct. 27. (Cpl. Monica C. Erickson/Marine Corps)
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Young enlisted Marines — especially those who like to party hard — will soon be asked by their commanders to spend a few hours learning about the short- and long-term effects of the decisions they make about drug and alcohol use.
Marine Corps officials have unveiled a new 4.5-hour-long alcohol- and drug-abuse prevention program, Prime for Life, that targets Marines between 17 and 25, who are identified as the service’s at-risk population, according to Marine administrative message 293/13, signed June 14.
A commander, at his discretion, can require any group of Marines in his unit to complete the training to head off potential problems.
“They know their Marines the best,” said Linda Love, the Substance Abuse Section head at Marine and Family Programs Division. “If they feel like they have a particularly young group of Marines and they are coming up for Christmas break, or they just finished training and haven’t gotten stationed yet, those would be great opportunities.”
The training includes role-playing exercises, group discussions and videos that address the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
“We are going to talk about how alcohol and drugs affect our bodies as we [invite] individuals to self-assess and look at how alcohol is affecting their life — not just work, but health,” said Luz Gonzalez, the alcohol abuse specialist in the Substance Abuse Section.
The program is an abbreviated version of the 16-hour-long Prime for Life course introduced in April 2012. Unlike the preventive course, the longer version is typically used to set Marines straight after their first alcohol- or drug-related incident — an arrest for driving under the influence, for example. Commanders liked it and approached Marine & Family Programs Division for something shorter they could use at their discretion to head off problems before they happen.
The Corps relies on 60 trained civilians, some of them former Marines, to carry out the 4.5-hour and 16-hour Prime for Life training. They are posted at every installation across the Marine Corps, Love said.
The program challenges common assumptions people have about alcohol and drugs. For example, many Marines see a high tolerance for alcohol as a strength, but people who possess a high tolerance are more likely to develop alcoholism, said Ray Daugherty, president and CEO of the Prevention Research Institute, the civilian company that developed the program. What’s more, a seemingly sober person can still have impaired ability to drive.
Those are facts “most participants find surprising,” he said.
The focus is on better decision-making, he said. Some people may be more likely than others to develop heart disease, and some people are prone to addiction. But just as diet and exercise can help prevent a heart attack, decisions about alcohol and drug consumption can lead individuals away from addiction.
“The whole purpose of Prime for Life is to help people see the power that lies in our choices,” Daugherty said. “Whether we experience a problem or not has little to do with who we are. It has everything to do with the choices we make.”
The new training is the latest in drug and alcohol abuse prevention program now underway. Others include theatrical productions like “Rum and Vodka,” a one-man play about a life that falls apart due to alcohol abuse; mobile simulators used to teach Marines about the dangers of drunk driving; and the Save a Life Tour, which features graphic videos and talks by people affected by drunk driving.
The most aggressive alcohol abuse prevention initiatives, however, are random drug urinalysis and the Alcohol Screening Program. The Alcohol Screening Program began in January and subjects Marines to two random breath tests each year, at a unit commander’s discretion.
The screening makes it risky for Marines to drink heavily on weeknights. Even if they aren’t drunk by the time they report for duty, they could still test positive for alcohol. A blood-alcohol content level of 0.01 will result in additional scrutiny and possible referral for alcohol abuse counseling.
The goal of all these initiatives “is to equip Marines with education to prevent any high-risk choices,” Gonzalez said.tional risk management skills they already take into battle to their personal lives, Love hopes.■