Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Difficult Decisions

It turns out I have a handful of readers who are midshipmen or newly-commissioned officers in the training pipeline. I've been honored that a few of them have emailed me to ask for career advice or pointers on things.

One emailed me recently with a difficult circumstance he wasn't sure how to handle, and I wanted to share it with anyone else reading this who might find themselves in a similar situation. He wrote that one of his classmates had been drinking and driving on more than one occasion (not getting caught other than by his own classmates), and he asked, "If I go talk to the command DAPA and ask him to talk to my classmate, will that get my classmate in trouble?"

For anyone who doesn't know, at any Navy command, one guy is appointed as the DAPA or Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor. The DAPA on most submarines is a Chief Petty Officer or up-and-coming Petty Officer First Class (senior enlisted type of guy). He has to attend a school for DAPA's so he understands the procedures for handling alcohol related incidents and referrals for drug or alcohol abuse treatment. The Command DAPA works for the Commanding Officer and is required to report things directly to the CO. For example, if someone self-refers themself for alcohol abuse, then the DAPA will report that directly to the CO and nobody else will necessarily know about it. Self-referrals are protected from any punishment or long-term career implications (more on that below).

Here's how I answered his question:

If you tell the DAPA about it, then you are officially notifying the command about it and he CAN get in trouble for it.

Understand that the rules of evidence do not apply at Captain's Mast. Simply by you or anyone else telling the CO that you saw a guy drinking and visibly intoxicated and then getting behind the wheel of a car, the CO can take him to Captain's Mast for Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) without any sort of official breathalyser or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) results. Now, I doubt that any CO would immediately take a guy to mast based on one verbal report like that. I think most CO's would pull the guy in their office and verbally counsel and warn him, but operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol IS a violation of Article 111 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and he CAN go to Captain's Mast for it.

That being said... Please, please, please, DO tell the DAPA about it. DON'T let this behavior continue. The LIFE you SAVE may be just your own. Think about how you will feel if you DON'T say anything, and next weekend he kills a young mother and her 3 year old child while driving drunk? What if it was your mother or your sister or your wife that he killed, how would you feel about it then? Won't you feel partially guilty for those tragic deaths if you allowed it to continue and didn't say anything?

My suggested course of action:
Confront the individual, and preferably with more than just yourself. Do more of your classmates know about it? I would stage an intervention. If it's just you, then he may wave it off as just you don't like him for some other reason. Get multiple classmates together, sit him down and confront him. Lay out the choices for him. Either:
(a) He self-refers to the DAPA and gets screened for alcohol dependency and treatment, in which case he does NOT get punished and he has a long and distinguished career. GO WITH HIM to the DAPA to make sure he follows through. Don't give him time to think about it (or worse - drink on it).
(b) If he doesn't agree to self-referral, then tell him you (preferably the collective you - multiple people / witnesses) will report it to the command via the DAPA, and he may be subjected to disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Make sure that he understands that:
(a) What he is doing is very dangerous both to him, his shipmates, and innocent bystanders who don't deserve to die because of his drinking problem.
(b) The matter IS going to be referred to the DAPA to protect himself and others. The choice is his - self-refer without any punishment or be reported and face whatever consequences may come.
You might also approach your DAPA and ask him how to handle it without telling him any names.

After writing that response, I did some quick look-ups to make sure I had my facts straight. FYI - the governing document on the Navy's DAPA program is OPNAVINST 5350.4. Here are a couple of sections from the instruction that I highlighted for this circumstance:

"Shipmate responsibility. Shipmates take
responsible care of shipmates. All members must be aware of the
warning signs of alcohol abuse and take positive steps to ensure
shipmates do not abuse alcohol. This includes intervening before
excessive drinking occurs, stopping a shipmate from driving while
under the influence of alcohol, and immediately challenging
inappropriate behavior resulting from alcohol use, both on- and
off-duty." (Bottom of page 18)

"All Personnel are responsible for...
(2) Encouraging members suspected of having an existing
or potential alcohol use problem to seek assistance.
(3) Notifying the appropriate CO, via the chain of
command, immediately when drug or alcohol abuse exists or is
suspected." (Bottom of page 17 to top of page18, emphasis added)

It also directs Unit Commanders, COs , and OICS to:

"Provide a means for command- or self-referral without
risk of disciplinary action or career-ending implications for all
members who have not incurred an incident, but are in need of
alcohol counseling and/or treatment. This safe haven for selfreferral
shall extend to members who admit to having purchased,
possessed, or consumed alcohol in violation of the minimum age
requirement to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol of the
military installation, State, country, or local jurisdiction in
which the member is located." (Page 14, emphasis added)


Anonymous said...

Good post, very informative.

And just wanted to say thanks from one of those many families who has gotten great advice from you!

I'm super behind on your posts but we're on computers on the Garmisch?Kaserne base library so time is limited.

Hope the family is doing well and look forward to catching up soon!

C said...

When we were in Charleston there was a major accident off one of the roads up near power school. Turns out there was some sailor who'd gone drinking with buddies and got into a fatality accident. I don't remember the details, but it was bad.

Great advice, and lots of information. Drunk driving is no small issue, and feeling like a tattle tale isn't reason enough not to report someone you know is doing it.