Defense Secretary Robert Gates needs to chill out and hear Alaska state Republican Rep. Bob Lynn out. Although Gates doesn't support lowering the drinking age for U.S. troops, Lynn has drudged up the age-old debate in Congress. He's proposing a bill that would allow military members in his state who are under 21 to legally drink and smoke when they're in Alaska. Currently, Alaska residents can't legally drink until they're 21 and legally smoke until they're 19.
I gotta admit, I don't really agree with the legal drinking age being so high in general, because I think that they've proven in Europe that a younger drinking age means that booze is less taboo and, therefore, kids don't binge drink over there NEARLY as much as our teens. But when it comes to the military, it makes even less sense to me that they have to wait until they're 21. If they can serve at 18, they should be treated like adults.
And that's exactly why Lynn is hoping to pass this bill. On his blog earlier this week, he made his case:
It's outrageous that a member of our military can be subjected to the horrors of war, but can't legally have a beer or smoke a cigarette. Any soldier who braves military combat and risks their life for our country should be treated like an adult -- in every sense of the word. HB 210 does not advocate smoking or drinking as a general practice, nor does the sponsor, but it does advocate equal treatment for adults and the de facto adults in America's military.
He has an extremely valid point, and I couldn't agree more. The men and women serving our country shouldn't be treated like children when they come back to the States. (Since 2009, the Pentagon has stated that in other countries, the minimum drinking age for U.S. troops is 18, unless an international treaty, agreement, or a local situation determined by a commander sets it higher.)
I'm not an advocate of smoking in general, and I would hope soldiers who want to stay in tip-top shape wouldn't really even have a desire to smoke. But a few beers? A glass of wine with dinner? What's the big deal??
Nonetheless, it doesn't seem like Lynn is going to win this battle easily. For one, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which was passed in 1984, says that states must make the legal drinking age 21 or else face a 10 percent reduction in federal highway funding. So, Lynn would have to trade nearly $50 million in federal highway funds for a lowered drinking age. Ouch, that's a pretty hard hit to take.
Then, you've got Robert Gates, who doesn't want to "encourage drinking" among troops. He told a hearing last month:
One of the things we're seeing as a result of repeated tours is not just an increase in suicides but an increase in risky behaviors, particularly by young men. And so that would be a concern of mine.
I do get what he's saying, and but if soldiers are going to engage in "risky behaviors," they're going to do it whether it's legal or not. Maybe if it's legal, they'll be in bars where bartenders can say, "Hey, I think you've had enough" or drinking with family/friends. In other words, they'd be in the open more and less likely to sneak around with a flask of whiskey or have keggers in someone's basement.
All in all, I can't say this is an issue I'm extremely passionate about, but I do think lowering the drinking age for the military is a practical move. Now I guess we'll see what Congress has to say about it. I have a feeling that, in the end, many soldiers under 21 will have to continue to be closet drinkers and smokers in the state of Alaska.
What do you think -- should the drinking age for U.S. troops be lowered?
Image via US Army Africa/Flickr